Monday, 5 April 2010
One, two .... er ...

How does an Irishman count to ten? "One, two, tree, many." Further afield, in the Amazon rainforest, this may be no joke. Alex Bellos in The Guardian:

The Munduruku numbers are:

1 pug
2 xep xep
3 ebapug
4 ebadipdip
5 pug pogbi

When there was one dot on the screen, the Munduruku said "pug". When there were two, they said "xep xep". But beyond two, they were not precise. When three dots showed up, "ebapug" was said only about 80% of the time. The reaction to four dots was "ebadipdip" in only 70% of cases. When shown five dots, "pug pogbi" was managed only 28% per cent of the time, with "ebadipdip" given instead in 15% of answers. In other words, for three and above the Munduruku's number words were really just estimates. They were counting "one", "two", "three-ish", "four-ish", "five-ish". Pica started to wonder whether "pug pogbi", which literally means "handful", even really qualified as a number. Maybe they could not count up to five, but only to four-ish?

A particularly clever Munduruk was once Senior Wrangler in the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos. His father congratulated him with a high pug pogbi. His book, Two and a Few More Habits of Effective Mathematicians, appears next month.

Posted on 04/05/2010 8:15 AM by Mary Jackson
6 Apr 2010
Send an emailreactionry
An Exponent of Truth
Or: Mugabe's Little Helper*
Or: "Wollust Ward Dem Wurm Gegeben"
Dear Mary Jackson:
Oddly, or evenly, enough, ebapug is also the rather imprecise number used in Rhodesia to denote the number of white farmers liberated from their bodies, here, as well as in the Republic of South Africa. (The number of Anglo farmers so tallied along the U.S./Mexico border, is, as might be gleaned from an erstwhile NER writer's podcast (which also described a similar campaign against Protestant farmers in Northern Ireland carried out by IRA members who would strike and then retreat into Poblacht na hÉireann), only "one," but one can only hope).  The truth be told, before we ditched the Zimbabwe dollar for foreign currencies, we should have tried using scientific notation rather than cardinal numbers and an exaltation of zeros.
Quick Quiz:  What poet, whose work was recently posted on your site, "got a double first at Cambridge in Mathematics and English"?
Too easy, I suppose, but for what it's worth, here's a reading by a "pop-math author" of a poem which seems to describe ebadipdip hands:
I apologize if I've made you ill, but take a little yellow (chill) pill, and before I'm shown the door (actually, I'm beiden my time now), take four more (well, considering the possibility of amputations or congenital defects, at least two) - hands, that is - received, I hope, with less than vier and loathing:
The Last King of Selous Scoutland,
Robert Ebagum** Mugabe
*  See foreign aid and my former court jester, Frederic Dobson, and his "tiny" hands and "little," "clammy" palms, as well as his son, whose paternity was denied by his mother in spite of the "nasty little worm's" conjugal visit, and also see her husband, the conjuror and cuckold who refused to grant Fred's son the Shock of recognition, thus condemning him to live out his short (though he was, unlike his father, a "big boy, like all boys") life as "Billy 'Bite-Size' Impson."
** Hat tip to EW??

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