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Ten.

It is simple enough a number. I am not even sure why I begun to think of it, but it made sense to consider the differences between the English ‘ten’ and the Spanish ‘diez.’ I love words. I think they bring with them a baggage of culture and ancient thought seldom explored by scholars unless, of course, you are a philologist. Even philologists, unfortunately, are usually only experts in one language. Comparative Philology is a non-existent field that perhaps should become a bit more faddish.

So, ten, a number. My thoughts drifted, immediately, to the hands. Ten fingers make ten, of course. But then why was ‘ten’ in English and ‘diez’ in Spanish? I usually blame Proto-German for weird cognates between Spanish and English. After all, Anglo-Saxon is more Germanic (Saxon) than Latin (Anglo). Ah, makes sense. In Proto-German ‘ten’ is ‘tehun.’ However, the Spanish ‘diez’ is directly related to the Ancient Greek ‘deka,’ which is actually related to verbs like ‘hold in mind.’ As such, one would expect that ‘ten’ would be more closely related to verbs of holding as well, although in the Latin, since the Greek has obviously been taken by the Spanish-speaking crowd, alongside the French ‘dix,’ the Italians ‘dieci,’ the Portuguese ‘dez,’ etc.

In that light, we know the Romans used ‘ten’ for many things, such as ‘tenere’ (‘to hold,’ not ‘to have,’ which was ‘habere’). ‘Tenere’ is a fascinating infinitive because it implied a physical holding, with your ten fingers, supporting the theory of Roman origin. One would hold things with ‘tenere’ but have things in mind or in one’s metaphysical possession with ‘habere.’ These two verbs came together and simply became ‘to have.’ The division, however, is quite telling. There was physical possession in the Ancient world, as much as there was metaphysical possession. In other words, you could have something in your ten fingers (held) or in your mind (held as a thought of ownership). When one holds something physically, various derivatives of ‘ten’ are used. The offspring of ‘ten’ is quite varied in English:

Tend: To stretch oneself to a point in space. Interestingly, this means that one holds a certain view and therefore stretches into thought coming from that point of view. ‘Tendencies’ allow us to guess, based on the position someone else ‘holds,’ what that someone will do at a certain point in time or space.

Tendon: Officially a body part that holds together bone and muscle that is also stretched. Someone can only be stretched by vitue of the ten fingers that hold both ends of the tendon together. Holding and ten are integral parts of the meaning.

Tentative: Trying or testing. One touches what one wants to test out, with one of the ten fingers. A tentative argument is one that exposes itself to the ‘touching’ of others intellectual fingers in order to prove its own validity.

Tenure: The holding of a position. Interestingly enough one holds on to a position that is held as inviolable to someone else who, literally, cannot touch the person who holds said position.

Abstention: The act of retaining. More clearly, the act of restricting something by virtue of holding it back from another. Literally meaning ‘from touching’ one keeps his/her hands to oneself.

Tense: You name it…
1. When related to tension (of a rope, for example) it follows the same line as stretch, being made so by the ten fingers of the hand.
2. Time in which a verb takes place or, better said, how far the ten fingers of the verb stretch in time.
3. A verb indicating how much we are suffering under, say, life, fate, others, and their reach, hands, fingers, etc.

Tenet: One of ten basic rules of law or, also, what a certain organization holds as basic principles.

Tenant: One who holds position in a property by virtue of holding a contract. It is like hold to the square.

The list is quite extensive, and I am sure if we were to open a dictionary we could probably come up with many more examples. So why the Roman ‘ten’ for English speakers and the Greek ‘diez’ for the Western Europeans? It may be related to the fact that Romans actually also used ‘deka’ as a number. The Roman for ‘ten’ is ‘decem,’ after all. The difference was not in the number but, I believe, in practicality. Romans were people of facts. Numbers are relative representations of quantity. Considier that the greatest philosophers were the Greeks; to them we can ascribe most of our philosophical words such as ‘philosophy,’ ‘metaphor,’ ‘hyperbole,’ ‘premise’… The Romans were far more practical. This no-nonsense approach to Roman speech allowed for a number to use the Greek ‘deka’ for its relative value, but in common speech Latin much preferred the hands and its ten digits, a physical holding of something, in contrast of the metaphysical one. We received, in English, the German cognate ‘tehun’ but kept the Roman ideas of what ‘ten’ represented, that holding with the ten fingers idea.

A fascinating run through the number ten and its meaning. Who knew it had so much influence in English beyond numbers. Maybe we can add ‘ten’ to those documentaries that were made on ‘zero’ and ‘one.’ I will have to contact the History Channel and see if they are going to take a break from their alien stuff.

Salvete!

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