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## Ask Professor Puzzler

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The following picture (click it for a larger version) was seen on Facebook by my outlaw Jakob (his wife is my sister-in-law, which is why I refer to him as my outlaw). It was accompanied by the caption "Here Is The Reason Why 1 Is Called 1. , And 2 Is Called 2..."

Somehow, Jakob must have known that I would want to write a sarcastic, cynical post about this.

"Here Is The Reason Why 1 Is Called 1. , And 2 Is Called 2..."

Uh...no...your terminology is confused. "1" is not what the number is called; it's called "one." "1" is the grapheme for the number we call "one."

So I guess you meant to say "Here is the reason we use this grapheme for one, and that grapheme for two..."

Better?

No. Not at all. Historically, there is absolutely no reason to think that people invented their numerical graphemes based on the number of angles in the digits (mind you, there is some indication that various civilizations played with creating graphemes based on making the number of lines match the numeral being represented). Most of our digits went through a lengthy evolution process, and their original forms, like our modern forms, had far more curves than angles. Take the number three, for example. The number three has no angles at all. Neither does six, eight, or nine.

"Well sure," you might say, "but if you write it as a block numeral, with straight lines, then the grapheme for three has three angles."

Really? So why didn't you write zero that way? Because when I last checked, a zero has four angles when written in block form.

And let's face it, even if you want to write your numbers in block form, no one writes them like this. Check your calculator. A two is an inverted five, which means that, like five, it has four angles. Four. Not five. Not two. Four.

And that ridiculous looking seven? Some people put a hook at the top of their sevens. Some people put a line through the middle. But do you know anyone who puts a line at the bottom of their sevens? I've been teaching math for a long time, and I don't think I've ever seen anyone write a seven with that serif. Oh, and I just checked through all 150 fonts I have installed on my computer, and none of them have that. It's just silly.

Do we really even need to talk about that absurd nine? Who in the world puts a curl on the curl on the curl at the bottom of their nines?

I get to the end of their numbers and find myself wondering, "Why? Why?? Why does this thing even exist?"

I have no idea. Seriously.

It's not even a valuable mnemonic for remembering anything. It's purposeless. And on top of that, it has zero angels. What's up with that? Why even mention angels, if you're not going to include any?

As one commenter said, "I never looked at the digits this way before. And now I'm never going to do it again."

Thanks, outlaw!

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