Reading The Lady of the Lake by Andrzej Sapkowski and at one point he describes the number of troops in the army as "four and forty thousand". Which number would that be? 44,000? 440,000? 40,004?


1 Answer 1


It's an old-fashioned way to say "forty four thousand".

This way of counting comes from the Germanic languages. German, Dutch keep using it, but in modern English it's considered outdated.

  • 8
    My mother (born in London, 1920) used to say times which were 25 or 35 past each hour as e.g. 'five-and-twenty past ten' or 'five-and-twenty to eleven'. Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 9:58
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    Four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie. Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 10:34
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    It's a stylistic choice that goes back to the Old Testament if not earlier, where specifically the number 40 or variants of it (e.g. 40,000) are used in a poetic sense to mean just "a whole lot". It doesn't necessarily mean there were exactly that many troops. Just that there were too many to bother getting an accurate count. See a list of such usages here Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 16:29
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    @Matthias this is probably why that silly numbering system was discarded...
    – RonJohn
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 22:12
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    @Flater Alternative explanation: it's a superposition of 4 and 40,000 :) nobody opened the box yet to see whether 39,996 were there Commented Jan 13, 2023 at 8:29

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