Amazingly, this is my 100th English Rose in Georgia column for the Bryan County News, and as long as they keep printing it and you keep reading it, I will carry on writing it! For a bit of fun I thought I would share a few of quirky facts and musings about numbers and the number 100 — on both sides of the pond.
Let’s start with the history of counting.
According to www.historyworld.net it is widely assumed that soon after language developed humans began counting and because we have 10 fingers and thumbs, nature dictated that 10 and the important milestone of 100 (or 10 10s) have been the basis of most counting systems in history.
The unwieldy Babylonian numbering from around 1750 BC used a system with 60 as its base which interestingly is still reflected in astronomical calculations.
The ancient Mayan civilizations also varied from the normal logic and based its counting system on 20 (maybe they used fingers and toes!).
In practical arithmetic, merchants were far ahead of scribes, for the idea of zero was in use in the market place long before its adoption in written systems. The first calculator— the simple abacus — consisted of a wooden frame in which pebbles threaded on rods and kept in rows.
Zero is represented by any row with no pebble at the active end of the rod, and the abacus formed the basis for early computer operating systems.
Roman numerals dominated for over 1,000 years after the Roman Empire’s introduction of them in about the 3rd century BC.
They are also based on ten, and remained the standard system throughout the Middle Ages, reinforced by Rome’s continuing position at the center of western civilization and by the use of Latin as the scholarly and legal language.
This numeric system employed combinations of letters from the Latin alphabet to signify values — 100 was represented by the letter C and 10 by the letter X.
Roman numerals are still used in a few ways today such as on clock faces, in chemistry, pharmacy, theology and music for example.
In Europe, capital Roman numerals are still occasionally used to denote centuries (e.g. XX refers to the twentieth century).
By the 11th (or XI) century the Hindu-Arabic numeral system that we use today had been introduced into Europe by traveling Arab traders. By the time the Pilgrim Fathers ventured to North American shores, this decimal system had completely overtaken the Roman numeric system, which explains why the use of Roman numerals is often seen as quaintly European and old fashioned in the USA.
Let’s turn to a subject which is synonymous with counting on many occasions — money!
According to the US Treasury website www.newmoney.gov, our favorite greenback, the $100 bill featuring Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, is currently the second most-circulated bill after the $1 bill but is actually the fastest-growing as the number in circulation (about $900 billion worth and mostly overseas) has quintupled over the past two decades.
Demand spikes around Christmas and New Year, when consumers are on the lookout for crisp bills to give as gifts.
In the UK there are no £100 notes and in fact the sterling currency was not based on decimal counting until in 1971. Before that, it was a confusing system in which pennies, farthings and shillings eventually added up to pounds.
The highest value British banknote today is the £50 note (which is worth around $85 at today’s currency exchange rates) and currently features the 18th Century British Manufacturer, Matthew Boulton and Scottish Engineer James Watt. In the land of my birth they regularly change the famous characters on the reverse of the bank notes, although the Queen is always on the front.
My favourite quote about 100 is from one of my heroes, another Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson. It is advice I try to follow: “When angry count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.”
God Bless America!
Contact Francis at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.lesleyfrancispr.com