Three-and-twenty years old!

Kräuter_Fee

Senior Member
Portuguese & Spanish
In the book "Emma" by Jane Austen I have seen that they say the numbers exactly like in German. Instead of "twenty-three" they say "three-and-twenty" (like <<German deleted>> :confused: ).
Why is that? Were the numbers read that way before??? Or is that a humorous way of talking? I had never seen that before.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • angeluomo

    Senior Member
    US English (German/French)
    Kräuter_Fee:

    Saying "three-and-twenty" is outdated English, but was perfectly correct in past centuries (don't nail be down on exactly when this way of counting died out). There is the famous English nursery rhyme that goes like this:

    Sing a song of sixpence, pocket full of rye
    Four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie...

    Much earlier, in Chaucer, were hear:

    At nyght was come into that hostelrey
    Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye (i.e. nine and twenty).

    This way of counting certainly comes from the germanic roots of the English language, but no one counts this way today.

    angeluomo
     

    MrMagoo

    Senior Member
    Westphalia, Germany; German
    Kräuter_Fee said:
    In the book "Emma" by Jane Austen I have seen that they say the numbers exactly like in German. Instead of "twenty-three" they say "three-and-twenty" (like <<German deleted>> :confused: ).
    Why is that? Were the numbers read that way before??? Or is that a humorous way of talking? I had never seen that before.


    This is indeed interesting. I didn't know you can find those forms in Jane Austen's books...

    Saying the single numbers before the tenners is a Germanic habit. English (as well as German) still keeps this in the numbers 11-19.

    I indeed think that "three-and-twenty" has been an archaic form even in English - but don't think that it's still been used the time Jane Austen's books are set in.
    [...]
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    Yazykoved

    New Member
    Russian - Moscow
    In one of books by Herbert Wells, my brother found this form, "a girl of three-and-twenty." I wonder if he was one of the last English writers who still used this outdated expression.
     

    Glenfarclas

    Senior Member
    English (American)
    Sometimes authors use old-fashioned expressions not because they are old-fashioned, but in order to sound old-fashioned and impart and old-timey air.

    Also, if you are referring to the science-fiction writer Herbert George Wells (is it this book?), in English he is universally called "H.G. Wells." I had to look up "Herbert Wells" to find out who you were even talking about.
     

    AutumnOwl

    Senior Member
    Swedish, Finnish
    In the book "Emma" by Jane Austen I have seen that they say the numbers exactly like in German. Instead of "twenty-three" they say "three-and-twenty" (like <<German deleted>> :confused: ).
    Why is that? Were the numbers read that way before??? Or is that a humorous way of talking? I had never seen that before.
    Expressions using "three-and-twenty" and so on for age are quite common in Regency novels written by contemporary authors, to give the novels an "old-fashioned" feeling.
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Seen in Fitzroy Maclean's "A Person from England and Other Travellers", a collection of true stories of derring-do set in what we once called Turkestan, the first edition of which came out in 1958:

    Waking at first light, one of the merchants, a young man of about five and twenty and with a Tartar cast of countenance, felt the need for some refreshment.

    I was surprised to see "five and twenty" in a book first published in 1958. Possibly, the author thought that this old usage sat well with the romantic fascination felt in the West for the cities of Turkestan. Maclean was a member of the political elite, and it is well known that elites often adopt particular usages in order to set themselves apart from the masses. Perhaps this "five and twenty" is a case in point.
     
    Last edited:

    grubble

    Senior Member
    British English
    Seen in Fitzroy Maclean's "A Person from England and Other Travellers", a collection of true stories of derring-do set in what we once called Turkestan, the first edition of which came out in 1958:

    Waking at first light, one of the merchants, a young man of about five and twenty and with a Tartar cast of countenance, felt the need for some refreshment.

    I was surprised to see "five and twenty" in a book first published in 1958. Possibly, the author thought that this old usage sat well with the romantic fascination felt in the West for the cities of Turkestan. Maclean was a member of the political elite, and it is well known that elites often adopt particular usages in order to set themselves apart from the masses. Perhaps this "five and twenty" is a case in point.
    I'm prepared to bet that in some areas of Britain you will still hear this usage.
    Example:
    "What time do you make it?"
    "It's five and twenty past three."

    I've heard that in the last ten years or so but I can't recall who said it or where I was at the time.
     

    Curt Jugg

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I'm prepared to bet that in some areas of Britain you will still hear this usage.
    Example:
    "What time do you make it?"
    "It's five and twenty past three."

    I've heard that in the last ten years or so but I can't recall who said it or where I was at the time.

    I agree. My late mother (born in England in 1919) often used "five-and-twenty" when telling the time.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    "It's five and twenty past three."
    I've heard that in the last ten years or so but I can't recall who said it or where I was at the time.
    It was probably me in the local pub. :D I do still say that from time to time.
     

    WyomingSue

    Senior Member
    English--USA
    And there is a song that I sang back when I played rugby ... "Four-and-twenty virgins came down from Inverness ..."
    I guess the usage there would be for purposes of meter.
     

    TaiChiChuan

    Senior Member
    Chinese-Mandarin
    Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 1:
    Mr. Bonnet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three—and—twenty years had been insuffiecient to make his wife understand his character.
    How many years is three—and—twenty years?
     
    Top