15 bumfit – Numberphile

ROGER BOWLEY: I want to talk
about the number 15 in English, but it's not English
that you know. This is going to be Celtic
English, before the Romans came here. So it's not going to be English
that comes from German, like ein, zwei,
drei, 1, 2, 3. This is the form of English
used by shepherds to count their flocks. And I've spent quite a lot of
time, Brady, learning how to say yan, tan, tethera,
pethera, pimp for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. TICH RIVETT: Well,
there's yan, tan, tethera, pethera, pimp. ROGER BOWLEY: Pimp is five. I find that quite
nicely amusing. And then, it's cethera,
lethera, hoverer, coverer, dik. And then you get onto the next
numbers, which are yanadik, because it's 1 and 10. Yanadik, tanadik, tetheradik,
petheradik, and then it's bumfit. So 15 is bumfit. And if you want to take anything
away from this, it is a pimp plus a dik is a bumfit. And then you get yanabumfit,
tanabumfit, tetherabumfit, petherabumfit, figgit.

TICH RIVETT: Tetheradik,
bumfit. Cetherabumfit, letherabumfit,
figgit. And hang on, I'm starting to
get a notch in me stick. ROGER BOWLEY: Now, this changes
depending on which part of the country. This is the Lincolnshire
version. If you go down south,
it's more refined. So it's yain, tain,
tethera, pethera. So this is 5 sheep plus
10 sheep equals 15. All right, there's a little
woolly thing with a head out here and a little toe. And he's coming along. All right, this is a
pimp plus a dik. Oh, I can't even say it right. Dik is equal to a bumfit. In some part of the country,
that has two T's, but that's not really relevant at all. So you have up to 20. So a pimp plus the dik plus
another pimp is a figgit. They get to figgit, they get to
20 sheep, and they couldn't cope with that. I mean, that's hard enough to
do, and it'll keep you awake.

So if you're actually counting
sheep this way, you'll keep awake rather than nodding off. And then they put a stone
in their pocket. So at 20, they stop at 20, and
they start counting again with a stone in their pocket
or a marble. Or they might draw a
line on the ground. And then they would go,
the same thing again for the next 20. So this is a base 20 system,
which is not very good because you have to rely on something
else in order to count up to maybe 80 or 100. Because they want to take their
sheep over somewhere else and flock them off
on other numbers. And they want as many
as possible. People keep it going, but there
was a tradition until about 1900 where the farmers and
the shepherds were still using this, so it became part
of the culture written down.

And so there's a
record of this. Not a television record, but a
record of it, so that people know about this system. And it's different in different
parts of the country, including Scotland,
including Wales. BRADY HARAN: What was it
about these numbers that appealed to you? Are you a bit juvenile,
or what is it? ROGER BOWLEY: Yeah, yeah. I find as I get older,
I immature with age.

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