Counting on your fingers

  • #1
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Okay, so my wife and I just had a huge arguement. My wife and I were positive that everyone did it that same way that we did. So what do you do.

Me: 1- index, 2- index/middle, 3- index/middle/thumb, 4- all fingers

My wife never puts her thumb up until five.

Then someone started with their thumb which just confused both and deteriorated the situation. Now factions are on the brink of war and it's a whole big mess.

So how do you all do it? The whole thing started over the major disagreement of the representation of three, and it's not about counting but representing quantities. If you say "give me three eggs" and you hold up your hand, how do you do it?
 

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  • #2
scottdave
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If counting large quantities, how often have you gone through 1-10 a few times, then think "am I at 40 or 50?". For situations like this, I've started counting in binary. I think I first read about it in Matt Parker's book. Here's an example of when I do this. I play string bass in an orchestra. Often times, I have sections where I have a 30 to 50 measures of rests. So I've started doing it this way: A finger down (touching the instrument) counts as 1, and up (not touching) counts as 0. On my left hand, I put my thumb down for the lowest place value (ones). So for two, I raise my thumb and put index down (10 binary for two). Then three (11 binary): leave index finger down, and put thumb down. Keep going and I can get up to thirty one (11111 binary) on just one hand.

For the answer that you are looking for: If counting the 'normal way' I start with index finger as 1, then index and middle as 2, up to the thumb is put up for the 5th finger. Hope that helps.

By the way - sign language uses thumb and index and middle for 3, because index-middle-ring finger represents the letter W. But then to represent 4, they put thumb down and hold up the other 4 fingers on the hand.
 
  • #3
PeroK
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Start with the thumb on your left hand. Six is the pinkie on your right and your right thumb is number 10.
 
  • #4
Borek
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Which end do you break your eggs first?
 
  • #5
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So how do you all do it? The whole thing started over the major disagreement of the representation of three, and it's not about counting but representing quantities. If you say "give me three eggs" and you hold up your hand, how do you do it?

I guess the interest here is what we learned as kids. Maybe this is a way of revisiting childhood.

Assuming we aren't little kids, but adults who went through school and learned basic arithmetic, when we "count on our fingers", we are not literally counting the fingers, but only using them as placeholders so we don't lose the count we have reached in our head. This may be especially handy in instances where we have to first interrogate an object (whether real or imaginary) to see if it "counts" before adding it to the total; using fingers as placeholders allows us to switch attention between pondering and counting without losing track.

I like @scottdave's example of using his fingers as placeholders for binary. In his case, because the count is a very long one, it's convenient for him to codify the procedure and always use particular fingers; but for short counts, it hardly matters which digit we start with or end with. Many of us, certainly myself, will do it different ways at different times. One time I might start with my left pinkie; another time with my left thumb; another time with index or middle finger. I do tend to start with a digit on my left hand, but otherwise I vary.

As for holding fingers up to another person to indicate a quantity such as three, e.g. "three eggs," once again we aren't literally counting (especially with numbers like 3 where we subitize anyway); rather, we're making a symbolic gesture. It doesn't much matter how we do it or if we are consistent or not.
 
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  • #6
Ryan_m_b
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I do it in binary. Right thumb is one, right index is two, right middle is four etc.
 
  • #7
DennisN
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Start with the thumb on your left hand. Six is the pinkie on your right and your right thumb is number 10.
That's how I do it too.
 
  • #8
russ_watters
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I do it in binary. Right thumb is one, right index is two, right middle is four etc.
That must make it difficult to get seated at a restaurant with your family...
 
  • #9
gmax137
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There was a movie, where the American soldier pretending to be German gave himself away by ordering three beers using three fingers rather than thumb plus two fingers. So, I assume the answer to the OP is, "depends on where you grew up." See also Borek's post.
 
  • #10
WWGD
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I don't count on them, they have let me down too often...
 
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  • #11
DrGreg
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I start with my right thumb. Left thumb is number 6.

Looks like we all do it differently. (I'm British, by the way.)
 
  • #12
StatGuy2000
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There was a movie, where the American soldier pretending to be German gave himself away by ordering three beers using three fingers rather than thumb plus two fingers. So, I assume the answer to the OP is, "depends on where you grew up." See also Borek's post.

gmax137, you are thinking about the Tarantino film "Inglourious Basterds", and the solider in question (portrayed by Irish actor Michael Fassbender -- who is half-German and is fluent in the language in real life) is British, pretending to be German (not American).


This immediately raised the question to me -- is the film accurate in that Germans and British count differently?
 
  • #13
gmax137
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That's the film. Thanks for the correction!
 
  • #14
BillTre
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I count 1-4 from index finger cross to pink (thumb holding down the non-up fingers) and then thumb for 5 on the right hand (usually), then the same on the other hand for 6-10.

I am considering filming some little kids doing finger counting for a project.
It will be interesting to see what they do.
 
  • #15
Borek
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I remember seeing in one of David Attenborough's films members of some tribe (can't remember where it was) who started to count with their fingers, but then they counted up on their hands.
 
  • #16
BillTre
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