How the Words Used For Numbers in Languages Around the World Often Have Anatomical Roots

In a numenary episode of their incredibly informative whiteboard series for Mental Floss, linguist Arika Okrent and illustrator Sean O’Neill verbally and visually explain how in languages around the world, the words that are used for numbers come from easily accessible anatomical sources.

So most cultures didn’t settle on the systems they did because they’re the best, but because of what we happened to have on hand—our fingers, and in the case of base 20, our toes too. How do we know this Sometimes the words themselves tell us. Many number words around the world are etymologically derived from words for hands, fingers, and toes.