Onety, Twoty, Threety

by Ira Mark Egdall

Late one night while trying to fall asleep, counting sheep or goats or something — a crazy thought popped into my head. The names we give our numbers are illogical. In fact they’re idiotic, merely the result of the evolution of the English language. “Why do children have to suffer the learning of number names that are inconsistent?” I asked myself. It’s hard enough to learn to count on your fingers (which I still do when no one is looking).

So I’m thinking: The numbers zero through nine are OK. Admittedly, the names representing the first nine integer values are arbitrary, but there are no logical inconsistencies. But there’s a big problem with the number ten. It is the first two-digit number in the series. This — I learned in high school math class — is because we use the base ten counting system (derived from having ten digits on our hands). I propose renaming the number ten as the number onety.

Say good-bye to eleven, twelve, and thirteen through nineteen. They are now simply onety-one, onety-two, onety-three, onety-four, onety-five, onety-six, onety-seven, onety-eight, and onety-nine. Think of it, no more “teenage” years and all the angst associated with that term. In telling time, what we now call “fifteen minutes after ten” would be “onety-five minutes after onety”. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? And it’s logically consistent.

So what should we call the number twenty? Why twoty of course. Continuing, we have twoty-one, twoty-two, twoty-three, twoty-four, twoty-five, twoty-six, twoty-seven, twoty-eight, and twoty-nine. Simple, huh! Imagine the fun you’ll have asking for “Twoty-two tutti-frutti ice cream cones, please.”

Then there is, of course, threety, threety-one, threety-two, threety-three, etc. Followed by fourty. Sounds the same, but the spelling is now consistent. Fourty-one through fourty-nine complete the string.

What’s next? That’s right, fivety. Followed by fivety-one through fivety-nine. Continuing, it’s simply sixty through sixty-nine, just as before! Seventy through seventy-nine follow. Oh, thank goodness, no more changes. Not quite. Eightty through eightty-nine follow. Sorry, two t’s for constancy. Ninety to ninety-nine complete the two-digit integer number set.

After that, I see no reason to change the number names one hundred, two hundred etc., and one thousand, one-million, one-billion, one-trillion etc. There is no logical inconsistencies here, as far as I can tell.

Cinderella looks up at the clock. It is onety-one threety-five. She dances with the Prince for twoty- five more minutes. Suddenly she runs out of the grand ballroom, and down the stairs, a glass slipper falling from her foot, as the clock strikes onety-two.

Just think about it. Wouldn’t it be better to use a simple, consistent system for something so important and used as often as the names of our numbers? Sure it would be an adjustment for the present generation. We have already learned the old-fashioned illogical names. But children would adapt to the new system very quickly, and within a generation or so, the improvement would be permanent. From then on, once a child has learned to count to onety, she/he will be able to count to one hundred and beyond with ease. Some of you may be saying that the author has too much time on his hands, but you must admit it is a good idea.

Hold on, there’s more. There’s more? Unfortunately yes. In thinking about it further, we also need to rename first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eight, ninth, tenth etc. to oneth, twoth, threeth, fourth, fiveth, sixth, seventh, eighth, nineth, onetieth etc. (At least after the oneth three numbers, there are only spelling changes – that is till you get to onetieth.) Thus we are now living in the twoty-oneth century. So simple!

“Mama, my two loose teeth fell out today. Can I put the oneth one under my pillow tonight for the tooth fairy?”

“You can put both teeth under your pillow”

“The twoth tooth too?”

“Yes, the twoth tooth too!”

And what about once, twice, three times, four times, etc. Can we resist leaving these number names alone? Of course not. Why, after all, are “once” and “twice” not one time and two times, just like three times and four times, etc. Sitting down at night by a child’s bedside, we would say “One time upon a time there were four and twoty blackbirds sitting on a fence”. It may sound funny, but it is logical!

So take up the cause. Write the President, e-mail your Senators, text your Congressperson, and tweet your Governor — demanding the logical renaming of numbers!

I’m done. No cheering (or booing) please. I need to take a nap. Maybe this time I’ll count psychiatrists.

: After I wrote this madness, I did a Google search of “onety, twoty threety”. It yielded some one hundred and twoty entries. So like pretty much all the junk floating around in my head, the idea is not wholly original with me. (In fact it sounds like a Victor Borge routine.) Apparently saying onety for ten, twoty for twenty, and threety for thirty is quite common in young children. This is surely a reflection of my level of maturity.

I welcome all comments. pro and con.
My website:
You can also follow me on Twitter@IMEgdall

27 thoughts on “Onety, Twoty, Threety”

  1. Hi there, i would like to mention the amount We relished ones very last post. Not often I see issues from thispoint involving watch. Thank you for spending some time – along with keep posting!

  2. This is something I have often pondered.
    In addition to more sensible names for numbers, we could also do well for having shorter names.
    I can’t seem to remember the name of the book, or find many articles on the matter, but I remember reading something about shorter number words being linked to increased ability to remember strings of numbers.
    There was also some corellation with general numeric and arithmetic ability.
    Quick google search turned up only this:

    Mayhap the ideas of Hestenes et al about building the mnemonics and structure into the notation could be extended to the language used?

    Of course this is likely academic because the advantages of switching to new words/notation are never big enough to overcome the immediate disadvantages.

  3. Although this is quite an interesting idea I wouldn’t approve of it. Isn’t this what happens in George Orwells 1984?

    The use of an highly illogical language makes people think in various ways, which causes different meanings/interpretations of words. This amount of interpretation gives the human mind some freedom to what he thinks…
    But I digress.

    As you say: the proposed way of counting ma seem more logical, but if you go back to the root of the words you’ll notice they once were these more logical forms. But they’ve changed over time because of heavy use, mispronouncements or just more practical pronounciation (compare ‘ten’ or ‘onety’ (onety->oneteh->neten->ten))


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  12. “Mama, my two loose teeth fell out today. Can I put the oneth one under my pillow tonight for the tooth fairy?”

    “You can put both teeth under your pillow”

    “The twoth tooth too?”

    “Yes, the twoth tooth too!”

    Sounds reasonable to me, IME, especially when one considers that frequently that “th” sound becomes quite pronounced in the context loosing teeth! : )


  13. The mathmatician Dick Tahta, whose Leapfrog group advised UK school’s television programmes in the 1970s and early 1980s, proposed exactly the same thing. In fact, the “two-ty”, “three-ty” etc terminology was used on programmes such as Junior Maths, which was watched by children in schools throughout the UK and many people remember it well – mainly because we had already learned the standard words without difficulty, and didn’t see why the television presenters were complicating things by attempting to simplify them. There are examples of the BBC’s Junior Maths programme on YouTube if you are interested.

  14. After I saw my daughters class work of KG for number names for 11 to 19, few of the names as Onety, I could not understand whether I should be angry and like my wife could not resist laughing. Just out of curiosity, only to know whether other children do also can have similar thought and after searching and seeing the write up of Ira Mark Edgall, I am confirmed. Surely I also agree to it that there is no logic for number names in English.

  15. Hi

    Just one more question, why is not ten a unique digit instead for digit “1” and digit “0”

    Think about that


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