Post 46

The News at 11: Reflections on a Good Number

These days I’m working on a post about schedules and daily plans. It’s a terrible choice of topic because I have a love-hate relationship with them. I revisit the issue a lot, because I feel like there must be a way to get everything done in a day, or at least, a way to get all the right things done. There must! If I could only find the right system . . .

So that post is currently a total mess of starting over and starting over. It’s also threatening to be very long, unless I can figure out a way to segment it. So I’ve decided to leave it aside for today so that I could write you and tell you that it’s 11.

(“What’s 11?”)

(“My favorite number!”)

(“Your favorite number is 11?”)

(“Yes, isn’t that exciting news?”)

(“You phoned me to say that your favorite number is 11?”)

(“Yes! Aren’t you glad?”)

(“What time is it anyway?”)

(“I don’t know. Maybe 11?”)

(“Well don’t you think you should be getting to sleep?”)

(“I suppose, but don’t you want to hear why it’s my favorite?”)

I was pondering it yesterday, and I’m pretty sure it’s number 11, though I must admit, I do like 12 a lot too.

The thing about the number 11 is that it’s aesthetically pleasing. Consider those two matching columns standing so proudly side by side. It has two lines of symmetry, so you can cut it in half horizontally or vertically. You could even turn it upside-down and it would not lose much of its charm. (This all assumes, of course, that you’re not doing it the European way with the long awning-like embellishment on the front.)

Number 8 isn’t as symmetrical, because the top half is smaller than the bottom half. Zero is good in this way, but I don’t really feel like zero is a proper answer to the favorite number question.

The number 11 also has the advantage that if you were to find another 11 and lay it horizontally, you could build a square. And if you’re feeling in an architectural mood, you can just place an arch on top, and then you’ve got columns plus arches, an unrivalled combination. That’s why 11 is better than just 1 all by itself.

And it’s white too, which is nice and calm. The digit 1 is white, so 11 is white next to white. White columns and an arch. Classic!

Do you see your numbers or letters in colour? If you do, then you’re a synesthete. The internet says that about 4% of people are synesthetes, but they’re not certain. I’m sure it’s more common than that – but nobody knows the real numbers because people don’t think of talking about it. If you have it, you think it’s normal and that everyone has it (that’s what I thought) or else you don’t have it, and it doesn’t occur to you that anybody would experience such a thing. And in the end, it doesn’t matter at all; it’s just one of those quirky things like wiggling your ears or folding your tongue lengthwise.

The most common version of synesthesia is the one where your brain assigns colours to different letters or numbers (grapheme-colour synesthesia). 578 seems blue red orange to me. I found it amusing to read how people with synesthesia can get really messed up if you give them math questions with the colours all ‘wrong.’ In other words, the heartless researchers would find out what colour associations that particular synesthete had, and then they’d switch the numbers up. So, for example, they’d ask you 4 – 3, but instead of using the right colours (green subtract yellow), they’d reverse them or do something like that. It disoriented the synesthetes, obviously.

Turning to the literary aspects, well, I must start with the fact that the number 11 almost looks like the very useful (I almost wrote ‘usefull’) double L. Watch this: The do11s a11 fe11 down the waterfa11. Pretty neat, hey?

And more importantly, the number 11 is one of the few number words that actually has three syllables. It’s quite beautiful. Listen to how smooth this is: eleven. And it looks good too. It looks and sounds like a combination of ‘elegant’ and ‘heaven.’ Hard to beat that, I must say.

Now I know there are all the three-syllable number words like ‘eighty-six.’ But really – most of them sound like old trucks pulling rusty trailers. And ‘forty-two’ – well, words like that bring the English language into disrepute; it’s very hard to gracefully end a word with the sound oo. Will you wear a muumuu when you come to my igloo for some tofu? How do you do? Yikes. It’s a good thing we don’t end words with the letter u.

(By the way, do you say twenty or ‘twenny’? I recently spoke to someone who emigrated here from Europe and he was surprised to hear Canadians using an Americanized pronunciation of twenty.)

And turning to morality, eleven is even a good number. Adding, subtracting and even multiplying are a breeze. No need to whip out the abacus with this number! It’s almost as cooperative as the number 1, but more interesting. When the School House Rock people did a teaching song about number 11, guess what they called it? “Good Eleven.”

But in terms of mathematics, I know that this is where number 12 really shines. Such a tiny number, and yet so many factors!

Admittedly, 11 is a prime number, but so is 7, and everybody knows how holy 7 is (7 gifts of the Holy Spirit, 7 days of the week, 7 corporal and spiritual acts of mercy, 7 sacraments).

But on the topic of holiness, you must admit that 11 is no slouch, being the number of good apostles, the Good Eleven, so to speak.

(“That’s it?”)

(“I think so.”)

(“Those are all your reasons?”)

(“Mm-hmm. That’s a11.”)