How To Celebrate 12/12 : Krulwich Wonders... On the 12th day of this month, consider how things would be if we based our counting system not on tens, but on multiples and fractions of twelves.

How To Celebrate 12/12

It's December, the twelfth month.

Sunday is the twelfth day of the twelfth month, which makes it a 12/12 day, which makes this the perfect weekend to get yourself a copy of the Duodecimal Bulletin, Celebrator of all things Twelvish.

Allison Steinfeld

The Duodecimal Bulletin is published by The Dozenal Society of America, which believes that life would be a lot better if we based our counting system not on tens, but on multiples and fractions of twelves.

Yes, thinking in tens got a boost from our having ten fingers and ten toes, says Dozenal activist Professor Gene Zirkel. But that, he says, "is a biological accident."

In his article, "A Brief Introduction to Dozenal Counting" Professor Zirkel writes, "if only we had been born with twelve fingers how much simpler all this would be."

That is why The Dozenal Society is represented by this panda.

The panda is the official mascot of the DSA.
The Dozenal Society of America

"The Panda was chosen as the mascot of the DSA," the Society's webpage says, "because it has six 'fingers' on each paw." If  Pythagorus had been a panda, well...things would be very different for us arithmetically.

However, because I am paid to check these things, I took a quick look at several panda anatomy sites and found that if you take this little quiz from giant panda anatomist D. Dwight Davis, it turns out pandas have...well, do it yourself.

A Giant Panda cub climbing a tree at the Wolong Nature Reserve in China. Those two round bumps foot pads. Katherine Feng/Globio/Getty hide caption

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Katherine Feng/Globio/Getty

How many claws are on this panda paw?

Are you sure?Count the claws again.

Good.The giant panda has five digits.

While technically a Panda is a five digit animal, that round pad on the left is a primitive opposable thumb, so it's almost six fingered. Dozenalians might want to switch to something decidedly sixish. How about a six toed cat? They’re almost as cute as Pandas.

Georgina the polydactyl kitten poses reluctantly to show off the six toes on each of her back feet.
Paul Howell/

The Best Argument for Switching to Twelves

But fingers and toes aside, the real argument for base-12 arithmetic is that twelves are easier to use than tens.

Practical people, says Professor Zirkel, have always measured in dozens:

  • the baker sold donuts in collections of twelve
  • the carpenter divided the ruler into twelve subdivisions
  • the grocer dealt in dozens and in dozens of dozens or grosses
  • the pharmacist and the jeweler still use the twelve ounce pound
  • the minters divided the shilling into twelve pence, etc.

What Professor Zirkel means to say, if I may help him a long, is that twelve's great advantage is its Superior Divisibility. As Alex Belos points out in his math book Here's Looking Euclid:

Twelve can be divided by 2,3,4 and 6, whereas ten can be divided only by 2 and 5.  Advocates of base 12 argue that we are much more likely to want to divide by three or four than by five in our daily lives.

For example, suppose you sell fruit. If you have twelve apples (and you don't want to cut them up), you have so many choices. Ten apples? So few.

A dozen apples.
Allison Steinfeld

That, in sum, is their argument: that a world of twelves is a world rich with choice, variety, and whole integers, a world that we can joyously share our apples in, be we men, women, boys, girls or pandas. Tens are for dullards,  people who like the look of 3.333333333. Whichever kind of person you are, have a great weekend and Happy December 12th!