Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/278

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brought forward,[1] and they are consistent with what is known of the principles on which numerals or quasi-numerals are really formed. But so far as I have been able, to examine the evidence, the cases all seem so philologically doubtful, that I cannot bring them forward in aid of the theory before us, and, indeed, think that if they succeed in establishing themselves, it will be by the theory supporting them, rather than by their supporting the theory. This state of things, indeed, fits perfectly with the view here adopted, that when a word has once been taken up to serve as a numeral, and is thenceforth wanted as a mere symbol, it becomes the interest of language to allow it to break down into an apparent nonsense-word, from which all traces of original etymology have disappeared.

Etymological research into the derivation of numeral words thus hardly goes with safety beyond showing in the languages of the lower culture frequent instances of digit-numerals, words taken from direct description of the gestures of counting on fingers and toes. Beyond this, another strong argument is available, which indeed covers almost the whole range of the problem. The numerical systems of the world, by the actual schemes of their arrangement, extend and confirm the opinion that counting on fingers and toes was man's original method of reckoning, taken up and represented in language. To count the fingers on one hand up to 5, and then go on with a second

  1. See Farrar, 'Chapters on Language,' p. 223. Benloew, 'Recherches sur l'Origine des Noms de Nombre;' Pictet, 'Origines Indo-Europ.' part ii. ch. ii.; Pott, 'Zählmethode,' p. 128, &c.; A. v. Humboldt's plausible comparison between Skr. pancha, 5, and Pers. penjeh, 'the palm of the hand with the fingers spread out; the outspread foot of a bird,' as though 5 were called pancha from being like a hand, is erroneous. The Persian penjeh is itself derived from the numeral 5, as in Skr. the hand is called panchaçâkha, 'the five-branched.' The same formation is found in English; slang describes a man's hand as his 'fives,' or 'bunch of fives,' thence the name of the game of fives, played by striking the ball with the open hand, a term which has made its way out of slang into accepted language. Burton describes the polite Arab at a meal, calling his companion's attention to a grain of rice fallen into his beard. 'The gazelle is in the garden,' he says, with a smile. 'We will hunt her with the five,' is the reply.