X number

I posted yesterday on Language Log about Erdős numbers, and then paused to note that composites of the form X number come in at least two varieties, exemplified by Erdős number vs. Fibonacci number (both with nouns as their first element) and by lucky number vs. triangular number (both with adjectives as their first element). I’ll focus here on the slightly less complex N + number case.

Both Erdős number and Fibonacci number have the semantics ‘number associated in some way with N’, but  Erdős number has an additional component of meaning lacking in Fibonacci number, evoking another referent besides Paul Erdős — someone who has this number. That is, Erdős number is “inalienably possessed”, and in normal usage requires that an explicit possessor be expressed (“My Erdős number is 4”). For Fibonacci number, in contrast, there’s no such requirement (I do not have a Fibonacci number associated with me). Similarly, lucky number vs. triangular number.

Inalienable possession is a huge and much-studied topic in semantics, syntax, and morphology. In some languages, there are explicit morphosyntactic indications of inalienable possession, but English is not such a language. Languages also differ in which nouns are inalienably possessed; body-part terms (like hand) and kin terms (like sister) are especially likely to be inalienably possessed (as they normally are in English).

Searching on {“your * number”} pulls up some entertaining inalienable N + number compounds: your birth number (known under various other names), a one-digit number calculated from birth year, month, and day and used to predict personality characteristics and the like (think of it as a zodiac with only nine signs); your sex number (the number of sexual partners you’ve had); and your fuck number (for men, the number of strokes it takes until you reach orgasm), for instance.

2 Responses to “X number”

  1. Jens Fiederer Says:

    Fuck number is supposed to be a CONSTANT for men?
    I really doubt that I am all that different from most men in having a “fuck FUNCTION” that yields quite a disparity in the number of strokes depending on partner, venue, mood, technique, and possibly quite a number of other parameters.

  2. arnoldzwicky Says:

    To Jens Fiederer: yes, the idea that there is a constant number for each man is very silly. Here’s a representative quote:

    But all men know (well…should know) our bodies. Like Katt Williams states…”you should know your fuck number.” (Your ‘fuck number’ is the number of strokes it takes until the orgasm comes.) (link)

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