Maths has found a less than discreet way into the English vernacular.
Let’s zero in on some of them.
GROUND ZERO: This refers to the point on the ground directly below an explosion (atomic, nuclear or chemical) that is above ground. Since 2001, in the United States, especially in the media, ground zero is understood to mean the site of the World Trade Center, which was destroyed in the Sept 11 attacks.
101: (pronounced one-o-one) This indicates an introductory level of learning, normally a general course at a beginners’ level.
ONE FOR THE ROAD: This refers to that “last” drink before a journey or before leaving a bar.
ONE-TWO-SOM: We reminisce about our past times when we played one-two-som to decide whose turn it is to do something. Though we must have also enjoyed coin flipping, drawing straws or throwing dice, we liked one-two-som best because we believed we could play it with a certain degree of skill by recognising and exploiting non-random behaviour of our opponents. We rejoiced when we won; we cried when we lost.
HOLE-IN-ONE: The dream of every golfer is to score a hole-in-one, which is when one hits the golf ball directly from the tee into the cup in one shot. Not only does he gain instant recognition for his prowess in the game and his “incredible luck over odds”, he also stands to collect an expensive prize.
CATCH-22: This is derived from the satirical novel of the same name by Joseph Heller published in 1961 and refers to “a problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem or by a rule”. No one wants to be caught in a Catch-22 situation, although, American country singer-songwriter Taylor Swift’s lyrics for her song 22 implies an altogether different feeling.
THE NUMBER 3: We have “two is a company; three is a crowd”, “a third party in a love affair”, “ a three-cornered fight” and the ubiquitous “three musketeers”, which is used to depict inseparable friends who live by the motto “all for one, one for all”. Then we have the comedians “the three stooges”, whose hallmark is physical farce and extreme slapstick.
ON ALL FOURS: This means you are down on your hands and knees. New parents rejoice when they first see their baby walk “on all fours”. Nevertheless, as adults, we certainly do not miss occasions when we need to be “on all fours”!
HIGH FIVE: We “high five” each other when we are in a jovial, celebratory mood. We simultaneously raise one hand, about head-high, and push, slide or slap the flat of our palm against the palm of the other person. “Give me five”, we exclaim!
SIXES AND SEVENS: A state of confusion and disarray. Interestingly, the phrase can be compared with the Chinese phrase luan qi ba zao, which has a similar meaning but instead uses the numbers seven and eight (qi is seven; ba is eight).
ONE OVER THE EIGHT: Refers to “the final drink that renders someone drunk”.
THE NUMBER 8: Did you know that the Summer Olympics in Beijing started at eight seconds and eight minutes past 8pm (local time) on Aug 8, 2008? Talk about Chinese superstition and numerology!
A STITCH IN TIME SAVES NINE: Advises us to fix a small problem right away so that it will not become a bigger problem later. But, alas! How many of us have been proven “penny wise, pound foolish” and led (or is it misled) by the saying, “If it isn’t broken, why fix it?” We tend to realise our mistake too late.
ON CLOUD NINE: Refers to a state of excitement and happiness.
THE PERFECT 10: Was the maximum possible score in gymnastics, until the rules were changed in 2006 by the International Gymnastics Federation. There are now different top scores for various events based on difficulty ratings and no consistent perfect score. These notwithstanding, names like Romania’s Nadia Comaneci and American Mary Lou Retton come to mind instantly. They achieved a perfect 10 score and became success icons for not only aspiring athletics but also hopefuls in all other enterprises. A perfect 10 score is attainable if you put all your heart, soul and strength into whatever you venture into.