12-12-12I don’t usually obsess about dates, but as this one won’t pop up in the calendar again for a century, I thought it was worthy of mention. The number 12 has a peculiar significance across a variety of fields, from mathematics, to the sciences, to religion, to history.

I try not to attribute any mystical import to this fact, as it’s true of most numbers, and as at least one author has observed, dalliance with numerology, the “harlot sister of mathematics,” inevitably ends in despair and empty pockets.

Anyhow, here are some fun facts about the number twelve. Yes, I cribbed most of these from Wikipedia:

Twelve is the largest number whose name is a single syllable.

There are, however, exceptions.
There are, however, exceptions.

Twelve months in a year.

Twelve hours on a clock face. Midday is twelve o’clock, and a new day starts at twelve o’clock midnight.

Twelve inches to a foot, in the English system of measurement.

Twelve is magnesium’s atomic number (number of protons).

Twelve hues on the color wheel—three primary, three secondary, and six tertiary.

Twelve sons of Jacob, who were the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Twelve apostles of Christ. After Judas hanged himself, the remaining apostles met to select a replacement, restoring their number to twelve.

Twelve gates in the New Jerusalem foretold in the book of Revelation, with an angel at each gate, and the city is in the form of a cube measuring 12,000 stadia on each side (about 2200 kilometers in length, width, and height).

Twelve days of Christmas, from Christmas Day to the eve of Epiphany.

In Orthodox Judaism, a girl becomes an adult at age twelve (bat mitzvah). Boys have to wait until they’re thirteen. Nyaah.

Twelve principal Olympian gods: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Hestia or Dionysus (take your pick), Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, and Hermes.

Twelve labors of Hercules (my personal favorite is Cleaning the Augean Stables)

Twelve knights of the Round Table, not counting King Arthur (or Brave Sir Robin).

Twelve signs of the Zodiac, both Western and Chinese. I’m a scorpion or a rat. Make of that what you will.

My favorite twelve.
My favorite twelve.

Baked goods are usually sold in dozens, though the “baker’s dozen” is thirteen. The baker’s dozen originated as a way to forestall harsh penalties levied in 13th Century England under the reign of Henry III against bakers who shortchanged their customers. It’s also known as The Devil’s Dozen. Coincidence? I think not!

Though there are 11 players on the field for each side in an American football game, the home crowd is commonly called the “Twelfth Man,” due to its perceived influence on gameplay. There are twelve players to a side in the Canadian Football League.

Also in American football, twelve is traditionally a number worn by quarterbacks, including such notables as Joe Namath, Roger Staubach, and Terry Bradshaw.

In bowling, you need twelve strikes to score a perfect game.

Twelve face cards in a deck of playing cards.

Perhaps the coolest NASA patch ever.
Perhaps the coolest NASA patch ever.

Twelve members on a jury, in most cases.

Twelve people have walked on the moon. So far.

Both the Aeneid and Paradise Lost are divided into twelve books.

The Beatles released twelve studio albums.

Vinyl LP records are twelve inches in diameter.

Finally, the number twelve is the subject of perhaps the least comprehensible and definitely my least favorite episode of Schoolhouse Rock.

C’mon, guys…duodecimal math? Really?


3 thoughts on “12/12/12

  1. I have to agree on Little Twelve Toes. I did “get the joke” many years later, after studying base twelve math, but that’s WAY over the heads of its intended target audience and I don’t care how old you are, it does NOT make multiplying by twelve any easier. It just complicates things. However, Schoolhouse Rock DID win on “Three is a Magic Number”. I still sing that tune when I count by threes. And both I and my homeschooled children all learned the Proamble to the Constitution with “We the People”. I cannot recall it without hearing the song. The best ones, IMO, were the Grammar Rock series. “Interjections” was a classic, as well as “Conjunction Junction”. While I’m not sure it helped me learn anything, my favorite remains “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly (Get your Adverbs Here)”. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

    1. Hey, Caprice!

      I’m with you on the overall superiority of Grammar Rock and the earlier installments of America Rock (I’m just a bill, yes, I’m only a bill…). The Preamble ought to be required viewing for every grade-schooler.

      Among the Multiplication Rock episodes, I think my favorites were Four-Legged Zoo (for the music), and Naughty Number Nine (for the animation–loved that fat-cat pool hustler).

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