Quirky Quicktionary

Celebrate Southern Africa

What is… TEN?

By John Walton

TEN is the base of our counting system. An assumption is made that this is because we have ten fingers on our two hands and thus easy to count. However, this does not explain why early weights and measures were based on 12.  A reason for the use of twelve is that it is possible divide 12 into; halves, quarters, thirds, seconds and sixths. Not forgetting ones and twelve, each giving a whole number. In a barter system this made trading much easier allowing to avoid getting three and a quarter chickens as change for a lamb, etc. However, thanks to Napoleon, we are stuck with the base ten counting system.

TEN is the atomic number of Neon. By coincidence, when making up the periodic table, Dmitri Mendeleev placed Neon at the end of his first line of 10 elements.

As Dimitri himself said – “I saw in a dream a table where all elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper. Only in one place did a correction later seem necessary,” as quoted by Inostrantzev.

Neon was clearly not the correction he refers to.


TEN was a sacred number to Pythagoras. He and his followers thought that 10 was the most sacred number of all, because 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10. The numbers represent the following: (1) existence, (2) creation, (3) life and (4) the elements earth, air, fire and water. If Pythagoras had lived in this age he may very well have added + 5 + 6 + 7 = 28 (the days in a lunar cycle), a definite sacred number having the aforementioned 4 nodal points plus; (5) Lies, (6) Damn Lies and (7) Statistics.


TEN is the stem word for Decimate. This word is often misused as a synonym for ‘destroy’ but the correct meaning of the verb ‘to decimate’ is ‘to reduce by a 10th’. This can be traced back to ancient Rome where the killing of one in ten soldiers in a cohort was the punishment for cowardice or mutiny. In modern times decimate could be used to describe the paying of a 10th of ones income to the tax man. Ie having ones income decimated. (Synonymity is intended)


TEN legs are the number of legs allocated to Decapods. Decapods are an order of crustaceans within the class Malacostraca, including many familiar groups such as crayfish, crabs, lobsters, prawns, and shrimp. Most decapods are scavengers. Now scavenging can have a negative connotation in the spoken and written word. However, let us look at this as the most basic requirement of recycling. Decapods, keeping our oceans sanitary since time marmoreal. Certainly, since before the introduction of the base 10 counting system.


TEN is the number of provinces comprising Canada, namely: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan. What about The Yukon, The North West Territories, and Nunavut, you ask. These we learn are federal territories – No mention is made of what happened to Old Brunswick or Oldfoundland. Global warming and the great thaw may reveal answers to this conundrum.

36 Possible Meanings

TEN according to the Acronym Finder has 36 possible meanings ranging from The Emirates Network, and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis, all the way to,The Eternal Night (gaming),  and The Enthusiast Network (est. 2001).

English Language

TEN is both a prefix and a suffix in the English language, used exTENsivly in word construction, and not limited to the bookend function. Examples too numerous to mention are available in the dictionary of your choice. However, for illustration purposes, let us look at some:

TENacious: Adjective, said of one who has an atTENtion span of 10 seconds

TENt: Noun, A portable dwelling designed to hold 10 persons.

TENuous: Adjective, 10 steps removed.

OfTEN: Adverb, to occur 10 times.

ForgotTEN: Past participle of forget, used when the total of items forgot reaches 10.

ThreaTEN: Verb, archaic usage for the number 13 to avoid saying thirteen.


TEN is a British melodic hard rock band which was formed in 1995. Up until June 2015, the band has released thirteen, or threaten, studio albums, the latest being “Gothica”.

Roman Numeral

TEN as represented as a Roman Numeral is X. I was taught that this was the representation on V (5) on top of an inverted V (5) to represent 10. However, I have recently read that it was an X as this was the arms held up and crossed representing the sum of the fingers on both hands. This says all you need to know about experts. Common usage of the term X marks the spot lead to much confusion in ancient Rome when marching armies could not decide when seen on a map if it was the distance or the destination.

John Walton is co-owner of Mix Tape Radio International and you can read about where he and his wife Janet (our brilliant book reviewer) live in this article about Frome.


  1. I tried my best to read this but I am so TENacious that it was not possible.
    I guess maybe cause I’m half horse, half alligator I got the prettiest sister, fastest horse, and ugliest dog in the District, and can outrun, outkick, outjump, knockdown, drag out, and whip any man in all Kaintuck.” Much Love Brother Blackhawk

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