Friday, 8 August 2008

Ode To Eight

Now I know that by posting twice yesterday and once today I am opening myself up to criticism from Alex that WhyNotSmile is a Feast or Famine experience, but since today is 08/08/08 and WhyNotSmile is basically a numbers game, the day could not be allowed to pass without comment. It seems like barely a year, a month and a day since I wrote this, but clearly it must be.

Now, when we consider the number eight, the first thing that springs to mind is that it is a number of almost mystical insignificance. Other than 'maids a-milking', I was unable to come up with anything important of which there were eight (although further reflection turned up the rather vice-versa 'pieces of'). This is particularly unfortunate when we consider eight's proximity to the ever-popular number seven, a number so loaded with meaning it seems almost unjust. But while seven numbers Wonders of the World, days of the week and Deadly Sins, eight does little more than sit on the sidelines and spectate.

Indeed, eight seems to be singularly unfortunate in its near misses: we all have eight fingers, but we add the thumbs and call them ten; we talk of working '25 hours a day, eight days a week' as a thing absurd; if it were rotated 90 degrees it would be infinity, but it isn't; and when we buy a packet of eight biscuits, they run out two days before we've used them for a fortnight's worth of packed lunches.

But of course eight has its moments of glory. In the first burst of the electronic age, it was the number that used all the little lines on the digital clock; in a similar vein, its similarity to the letter 'B' when upside down on a calculator enabled all children of the eighties to type rude words in maths. Likewise it is indispensible in text messaging, for those who wish to say 'see you l8r'.

In maths, eight is the first interesting cubed number (after 1), being equal to 2 cubed; this gives it all sorts of useful purposes in geometry. It also turns up in the Fibonacci sequence.

After this I had to turn to Wikipedia, which informs me that, amongst other things, eight is the number of Beatitudes (who knew?) and that Buddhists speak of the Noble Eightfold Path. And lest we forget, eight is important in music, due to it being the number of notes in an octave; in imperial measurements there are 8 furlongs in a mile, 8 fluid ounces in a cup, 8 pints in a gallon, and 8 tablespoons in a gill, which is quite something.

It was pleasing, however, to find that eight is a lucky number to the Chinese, because it sounds like their word for 'wealth'. Which is nice.

2 comments:

jayber crow said...

Vancouver has a HUGE Chinese community so there's lots of discussion on the news etc here about how lucky today's date is. Registry offices are overloaded with people getting married today. People have delayed opeing new businesses so they can launch them today. Mad stuff.

My inner theology nerd feels the need to add that the traditional seven deadly sins were originally eight in the writings of Evagrius, before two of them were combined by Gregory the Great.

Eight is also the number which north Americans can't understand when it's spoken in a Northern Irish accent.

QMonkey said...

Eight is the number that NO ONE outside of NI can understand in an NI accent.