Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Mysterious Number Twelve

I'd like to roll on the floor ecstatic every time I receive from Terri's son Patrick a dozen fresh eggs, pastel-pated and stamped with their dates--these from early December--and part of the thrill is the fact of the dozen. In a base-10 culture like ours, why do eggs come in dozens? Why are there 12 hours on the clock? Remember learning to tell time, how intricate it was? Why 12 months in a year? 12 Apostles? 12 inches in a foot?

It turns out 12 is a special number, long ago agreed to be more versatile than 10. Ten can be neatly divided only by five or two; 12 can be divided by six, three, two, three, or four, for maximum possibilities when packaging, shipping, and retailing, and seating friends at table. The concept of "a dozen" (the word is from Old French dozain, from the Latin duodecim "twelve" from duo, "two" plus decem, "ten") is thus far older than its name, which appears in French around 1300. A dozen is brilliant for eggs. Ten wouldn't seem like enough, and 14 would be too many.

What, am I hard up for thrills this winter that a dozen eggs will thrill me? No! Nothing is prettier than a fresh egg except 12 fresh eggs, beautifully and naturally tinted and cradled like gems. Happy Eastern Orthodox Christmas today. I was raised Eastern Orthodox. The calendar we use diverges from the standard Gregorian calendar by 13 days. Thirteen is another whole story.

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