Numbers are tricky, as Pythagoreans warned two millennia ago, discovering nasty snags like irrational numbers—π, the square root of two and other values represented in the physical world but occupying the infinite world in their mathematical incarnations. Add the shifting, imprecise nature of language in sound and written form to this, and indeed the mind will feel numb-er.
Consider all the people looking to find “the One.” Why? So they can be a couple. And what do those two want in their pairing? For their partners to see them as special and unique. No wonder that Three Dog Night sang “One is the loneliest number,” but “Two can be as bad as one—it’s the loneliest number since the number one.”
In her film “Home of the Brave,” performance artist/musician Laurie Anderson complains that “a couple of numbers have been bothering [her] lately—zero and one.” She describes a zero as “a nobody, a has-been, a clod,” while “Everybody wants to be number one!” The trouble, she notes, “is that these two numbers are just too close. Leaves no room in there for everybody else.”
Indeed. Spaces between numbers require fractions. Who wants to be fragmented? We can try to circumvent this with decimals, but first, circumventing gets us back to circles and that messy π, and second, no one wants to be decimated either.
Some number spaces allow these finer distinctions, however. Eight can be modified, for example, as fascin-eight, liber-eight, substanti-eight, moder-eight, negoti-eight and so forth, giving us back important lost words like fascin, liber, substanti, moder, and negoti (I especially like that last one).
The first seven numbers are sacred—The Seven Wonders of the World, The Seven Seas, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, The Magnificent Seven and more. The fulcrum of these first numbers, number four, gives a hint about the leap in meaning to come with meta-four, but only when doubled, at eight, does the richer meaning evolve.
That richer meaning stops at ten, since from there on numbers are already doubled in terms of digits, but it continues with number nine—qui-nine and assin-nine, for example. Qui, interestingly, isn’t an English word, but it IS part of an English idiom, “on the qui vive,” meaning alert, vigilant, lively attentive—but it also contains two French words. So ironically, to “Be on the qui vive for terrorists” REQUIRES help from the French--a political complication likely to be a burr under Conservative hardliners’ saddles (“I’ve got spurs that jingo jangle”).
Other words offer hints to their occult meanings as well—assassin, for example, as in "to assas" is a SIN (assas-sin). [Interestingly, Assas is a village in--you guessed it—southern FRANCE.] However, add a number, assassin-eight, and the sin is buried behind the number. Perhaps numbers do offer some safety?
Unless you’re the One being eighty-sixed.