• dozen •
dê-zên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A group of twelve. 2. A large unspecified number.
Notes: So what could be interesting about such a common word? Well, did you know you could abbreviate it two different ways: doz. or dz? We all know that the ordinal variant is dozenth ("This is the dozenth time I've told you!") However, did you know that dozenal is sometimes used in mathematical circles instead of duodecimal referring to the base 12 numbering system? Few languages use a dozenal system for counting since we do not characteristically have 12 fingers, the origin of the decimal system. Still, many cultures do have dozenal systems for keeping track of time: 12 months in a year, 12-hour days, 12 zodiac signs.
In Play: Because it is not a regular cardinal number (like twelve), we have taken great liberties with the meaning of today's Good Word. A baker's dozen, of course, means 13 rather than 12. Bakers once gave their customers a lagniappe of an extra pastry to encourage the customer's return. Dozen can also refer to an unspecified large number: "I can't understand why people think it is difficult to quit smoking; I've done it dozens of times" (taking shameful liberties with Mark Twain's famous claim).
Word History: Today's Good Word comes to us from Old French dozaine "dozen", douzaine in Modern French, the correlate of Spanish docena and Italian dozzina. All these words are descendants of Latin duodecim "twelve" based on duo "two" + decem "ten". Duo we use in English unadulterated referring to a set of two, as well as with the French suffix, -(e)t in duet, usually two musicians or a musical piece for two instruments. But the original PIE root for "two" (dwe-/dwo- "two") turns up in a plethora of English words, almost anywhere you see [tw] togeher: twilight, between, twain, twin, and twig because one usually branches into two. In German we find zwei, in Russian and other Slavic language dva, Albanian dy, Lithuanian du, Irish dha, Welsh dwy, Hindi do, Farsi (Persian) dw, and Kurdish twi. (We owe dozens of bows to Mark Morath of State College, Pennsylvania for suggesting today's surprisingly interesting common word.)
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