Think about what you take for granted. Do you ever wonder why (or if?) “America” is named after Amerigo Vespucci? Why we call green green? Why a lot of words start to sound fake after you say them over and over again? With this mindset, let’s talk about twenty.
Twenty is the natural number sandwiched between nineteen and twenty-one. The word comes from the Old English twegen, which means “two,” and the Old English suffix –tig, which means “group of ten.” The suffix –ty expresses numerals that are multiples of ten: twenty, forty, sixty, and so on. While it’s used less often today, we also have the word score to represent a group or set of twenty. For example: “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers…”
Twenty takes on other responsibilities and meanings as well. In the United States, 20/20 indicates normal vision at twenty feet. People with 20/20 vision are said to have “perfect” sight. Hawks and some other birds have vision as sharp as 20/2.
First recorded in 1962, the expression twenty-twenty hindsight is used to express knowledge that was gained after the fact. The expression now has variations and is often used to convey regret. For example: “We should never have taken our Caribbean vacation in June. We spent the whole trip boarded up in our hotel waiting for the hurricane to pass. Hindsight is twenty-twenty.” The meaning of the word hindsight, “seeing what has happened,” is from 1883, and was probably formed on the model of foresight. A little-known Greek myth personifies Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus as foresight and hindsight respectively (that may help explain the fact that Epimetheus was the husband of Pandora).
The word twenty also comes into play in a popular party and road game that is over 200 years old: twenty questions. What would happen in a game of twenty questions where “twenty” was the answer?
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