Thinking Through “Twenty”

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?


  1. the mortal instruments lover:) -  February 20, 2014 - 4:41 pm

    i agree with what scarlett said at the top i love a challenge

  2. Katie -  February 20, 2014 - 10:05 am

    I believe the word ‘twin’ is also derived from this Old English word, because well, ‘two’ babies, instead of one.

  3. Barry Mewha -  October 16, 2012 - 4:22 am

    America is NOT named after Amerigo Vespucci. It is named after the Welshman Richard Americ.

  4. free movies -  September 8, 2011 - 9:03 am

    It’s arduous to search out educated people on this matter, however you sound like you already know what you’re speaking about! Thanks

  5. Billy Huft -  July 19, 2011 - 12:20 pm

    Great info ! I really enjoy your valuable work.

  6. Scarlett -  May 10, 2011 - 8:59 am

    Why does it matter if America was named after Vespucci or not? Why can’t you just accept something trivial every now and then?

  7. Insurance -  February 13, 2011 - 9:45 pm

    Took me time to read all the comments, but I really enjoyed the post. It proved to become Really helpful to me and I’m positive to all the commenters here It is always great when you can not only be informed, but also entertained I’m sure you had fun writing this write-up.

  8. dentist -  February 13, 2011 - 5:35 pm

    This was a definitely quite superior post. In theory I’d wish to create like this also – getting time and actual effort to make a good piece of writing… but what can I say… I procrastinate alot and by no means appear to obtain anything done.

  9. how to unlock iphone -  February 9, 2011 - 8:28 pm

    Took me time to read all the comments, but I actually enjoyed the post. It proved to become Extremely helpful to me and I am certain to all the commenters here It is always good when you can not only be informed, but also entertained I’m positive you had fun writing this article.

  10. rochester ny spa -  February 9, 2011 - 4:14 pm

    Resources these as the one you mentioned right here will be incredibly useful to myself! I will publish a hyperlink to this web page on my personal blog. I am positive my site guests will discover that quite effective.

  11. samurai watch -  February 9, 2011 - 4:12 pm

    Youre so right. Im there with you. Your blog is undoubtedly worth a read if anyone comes throughout it. Im lucky I did because now Ive received a whole new view of this. I didnt realise that this issue was so important and so universal. You unquestionably put it in perspective for me.

  12. David W. Brown -  October 22, 2010 - 4:33 pm

    What a neet sight.I’m in love with words and their origins and this sight is right up my alley.
    There is two ?’s right there. What is the name for a person that loves words & where did the term “right up my alley come from”?


  13. Victoria -  October 22, 2010 - 2:58 pm

    Allan said “It actually seems unlikely that the US is named after Vespucci.” While that’s technically correct, the implications of the statement bothers me so much I’m posting this even if it doesn’t have a chance of being seen by you.

    The United States of America was NOT named after any person. The name for the continents came first; the U.S. didn’t even exist until 1776. In addition, there’s more than one country even in North America! Have we gotten so arrogant as to assume that the U.S. came first and covers the entire Western Hemisphere?

  14. Jasmine Devoe -  October 22, 2010 - 5:39 am

    The Reason WHy America is named after Vespucci is because he supposedly read the map wrongly and signed where The Title of the land was supposed to go.

  15. Gisela Jankins -  September 10, 2010 - 8:02 pm

    Hello dude,i likes Your site in truth a lot. attain u have on suggestion as my blog? thanks as Your attention

  16. klem39 -  August 28, 2010 - 11:01 am

    Viki :- Eleven and twelve are useful when you count in base twelve. You count up using the knuckles of your hand. When you get to Twelve you stick the thumb up and then start on the other hand. That was probable enough way back for tallying sheep, chickens etc. and you couldn’t handle paper with wet hands.

  17. couer -  August 27, 2010 - 9:38 pm

    I love learning all this. My problem is remembering it all.

  18. SILVICOLA -  August 27, 2010 - 3:33 pm

    world war kind of things related tags
    kind of signs for “perfect” right-handed sight besides its bizarre comprehensive language limbs between passive-right-hand and a fake-enabled-target civils war

    HQ target

    \O ue haces aqui todavia?\

  19. clay -  August 27, 2010 - 1:10 pm

    The Library of Congress is still sticking with the Amerigo Vespucci story – and recently paid something like $10M for the only known copy of the Waldseemüller map using the term “America” for the first time (1507).
    Just sayin’.

  20. Hern Quin -  August 25, 2010 - 12:51 pm

    Esos son otros veinte pesos, but Advil gave me a headache.

  21. Ora Bergholz -  August 17, 2010 - 5:57 am

    Hi administrator I rejoice in w/ ur article . can i copy this advice as my academic check ? thanks

  22. cna training -  July 25, 2010 - 2:18 pm

    Great site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some friends!

  23. Shishir Chourey -  July 23, 2010 - 12:37 am

    @ Dotti Berry: “Ancora Imparo” means I’m still learning

  24. cosmopolitan -  July 22, 2010 - 5:27 am

    so having a surname is having becoming a civilian from a peasant?

  25. Mary Pham -  July 21, 2010 - 8:46 pm

    i really like this entry

  26. schmoo -  July 21, 2010 - 5:44 pm

    @ johnny b,
    HA!!! That’s funny!! Got any more…? :-)

  27. Feminissimo -  July 21, 2010 - 4:34 pm

    I, envy you. Your blog is much better under the maintenance and design than mine. Who to you the design did?

  28. Yohanon -  July 21, 2010 - 10:23 am

    Matt who often ponders word origins might want to subscribe to Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day.

    Chelsea asked: When did people start using last names? Napoleon Bonaparte (15 August 1769 – 5 May 1821) started it for most of Europe when he insisted that all citizens of countries he conquered had family (sur) names for census purposes; people were allowed to select their own and many did according to profession (Taylor/tailor/schnieder), Smith (gold, silver, black) or location (Feld/field, Valle), or other attribute.

  29. Master John -  July 21, 2010 - 8:50 am

    It’s a great revelation, haven not learnt as that far about ‘Twen’-'ty’.

  30. in between -  July 21, 2010 - 3:27 am

    words definitions and etymology are so ambiguous but when things get explicit, the meaning of words somehow disappear, but if remains in implicity, all the maze haunts you.

  31. magic texta -  July 20, 2010 - 5:28 pm

    @Viki. If your on dictionary, why not look it up yourself?

    “Word History : The decimal system of counting is well established in the English names for numbers. Both the suffix -teen (as in fourteen ) and the suffix -ty (as in forty ) are related to the word ten. But what about the anomalous eleven and twelve? Why do we not say oneteen, twoteen along the same pattern as thirteen, fourteen, fifteen? Eleven in Old English is endleofan, and related forms in the various Germanic languages point back to an original Germanic *ainlif, “eleven.” *Ainlif is composed of *ain-, “one,” the same as our one, and the suffix *-lif from the Germanic root *lib-, “to adhere, remain, remain left over.” Thus, eleven is literally “one-left” (over, that is, past ten), and twelve is “two-left” (over past ten).”

  32. Viki -  July 20, 2010 - 4:55 pm

    I’ve always kinda wondered about the origins of the numbers eleven and twelve. Does anyone know?

    It seems logical that thirteen is similar to “three and ten,” fourteen is similar to “four and ten,” and twenty-one is obviously “twenty and one,” and so on. But where the heck did eleven and twelve come from?

  33. KatyS -  July 20, 2010 - 4:54 pm

    Dr. Trevorkian, completely agree. And Gilgy, me too!

  34. KatyS -  July 20, 2010 - 4:50 pm

    My guess is that “July” was named for Julius Caesar.

  35. Johnnie -  July 20, 2010 - 3:08 pm

    absolutely thrilling.
    Woohoo it was grrreat!
    Ho ho ho ho ho ho ho ho
    that’s the lot for now……..

  36. Jonel -  July 20, 2010 - 2:00 pm


  37. Adam O'Hirsi -  July 20, 2010 - 1:52 pm

    This is really amazing. Thank you guys,

  38. Gilgy -  July 20, 2010 - 1:49 pm

    Honestly, I am more concerned about ‘eleven.’ It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with ‘one.’

  39. Dr.Trevorkian (musician) -  July 20, 2010 - 1:36 pm

    The best way to be able to easily figure out the meanings or definitions of words as well as to be able to make up words that actually make sense is to learn Greek and latin origins of english words as well as just exposing yourself to alot of various verbose vocabulary.

    psychedelic: psyche-mind delos-clear or visable

    pyschedelic- to make the mind clear or visable.

  40. magic texta -  July 20, 2010 - 12:37 pm

    @ Dotti Berry.

    Ancora Imparo means “I’m still learning”

  41. anonymous -  July 20, 2010 - 12:01 pm

    This was an interesting post. Thanks!

  42. Dotti Berry -  July 20, 2010 - 11:32 am

    hey…just discovered this…amazing information…really educates me…love that since my daily motto is Ancora Imparo. anyone know what that means? :)

  43. Joanne -  July 20, 2010 - 11:07 am

    I often wonder about the words ‘lease’ and ‘release’. They have unrelated meanings, don’t they?
    How did theyeach come about?

  44. Johnny B -  July 20, 2010 - 10:16 am

    Hello. My name is John and I’m a wordaholic.
    Y’all might like a book called “The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories”. Oxford Press, of course.
    Or maybe “The Devil’s Dictionary” by Ambrose Bierse (SP??) for a fun look at how words might have been defined.
    Here’s an example:
    HANDKERCHIEF, n. A small square of silk or linen, used in various ignoble offices about the face and especially serviceable at funerals to conceal the lack of tears.


  45. Dan -  July 20, 2010 - 10:02 am

    America is actually not named for Welshman Meric…it stands for “Chuck Norris” in zimbabalayan.

  46. Pawel -  July 20, 2010 - 8:26 am

    I like this blog very much. Where could I find previous enteries? Not just the one from the previous day, but from previous weeks or months?

  47. Bobby Moore -  July 20, 2010 - 7:38 am

    Hi, this is really cool like squid.

  48. quackquack -  July 20, 2010 - 7:28 am

    If Pandora, the virgin is light hair, then there would not be so disrespectful.

  49. Reddy -  July 20, 2010 - 7:04 am

    Hey Matt:

    Same here!

  50. Reddy -  July 20, 2010 - 7:03 am

    In recent years, a popular sport – CRICKET, has introduced a shorter version of the game. It is called TWENTY-TWENTY.

    Basically, each side bats and bowls twenty overs. The winner takes it all.

  51. jack -  July 20, 2010 - 6:56 am

    It’s great to learn the etymology of phrases, words, etc. Keep it up, it is most appreciated!!!!!!!!!

  52. Tarquin Farquhar -  July 20, 2010 - 6:37 am

    America was named after Richard Ameryk – a Welshman.

    Furthermore, Columbus was aware that sailors sponsored by Ameryk had already reached the Americas.

  53. Vishwas -  July 20, 2010 - 4:28 am

    Quite Interestin!

  54. advil -  July 20, 2010 - 3:40 am

    Pandora maybe has started out with some scribble on the Bad day at Black
    Rock, it should have been the Virgin Spring, then there might have been different scrabbles.
    Over and out! I came across this term in one of the James Bond film.

  55. A -  July 20, 2010 - 2:50 am

    Historians now consider it more likely that America was named after the Welshman John ap Meric, a trader who sponsored a number of early expeditions and maps.

  56. Kieran -  July 20, 2010 - 1:55 am

    You could have mentioned “to split in twain” having the same origins from twegen

  57. Kieran -  July 20, 2010 - 1:51 am

    Thank you for mentioning that Allan, I really cannot understand why this myth persists.

  58. meagain -  July 20, 2010 - 1:44 am

    thats interesting Allan I never looked @ it that way b4 !!

  59. Chelsea -  July 20, 2010 - 12:19 am

    When did people start using last names?

  60. Hoo ROO -  July 20, 2010 - 12:11 am

    A Question for u’s: What does ‘teen’ mean like in 17, 18 etc.?

  61. Hmmm -  July 20, 2010 - 12:09 am

    Hey! Thats interesting times ‘twen’ – ‘ty’ :-)

  62. Allan -  July 20, 2010 - 12:08 am

    It actually seems unlikely that the US is named after Vespucci. First names are traditionally only used when naming a place after a member of the nobility (e.g. Prince Edward Island, Alberta, Victoria). Vespucci was not a noble. For non-nobles, last names are used (e.g. Bering Strait, St Lawrence River, Baie de Champlain).

  63. Matt -  July 20, 2010 - 12:04 am

    Great article! I love learning things like this. I often ponder word origins, and wonder why things are called so.

  64. Ai~ -  July 19, 2010 - 11:54 pm

    Truly interesting twenty somethings. ;) Thanks for this post!

  65. Sandra -  July 19, 2010 - 11:51 pm

    Where did the expression “doing the cruet” come from?


Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked (required):

Related articles

Back to Top