Word of the day: half a dozen

half a dozen

Pronunciation: /hɑːf ə dʌzən/

Half of twelve (12), i.e. six (6).

Let’s talk about this phrase for a moment.

It is wrong. Just… wrong. Okay?

It is wrong on the following counts:

  1. First off, it is three excess syllables where saying simply “six” will do the job just fine. I don’t know why people would ever say “half a dozen” for this reason alone. Surely the concept of “six” existed before the word “dozen” came along.
  2. “A dozen” is an outmoded way of saying twelve. But even then, you would never say “half of twelve”. If you’re a sensible human being, you’d never describe the number of anything as being half of another number, you’d use the actual number!
  3. When you say “half a dozen”, you’re really approximating the number, because saying “I just saw six birds flying over” sounds anal and overly precise in your head. In that case you could just say “five”, or even “about five”, because (a) that’s just about as accurate, (b) the number is rounder, and (c) it’s still less syllables to say than half a bleeding dozen.
  4. Contrary to what some mathematicians would prefer, we do not use a base-12 (dozenal) system for counting. It might be of some use in that instance, but in this age of metric measurement and decimalization, “dozens” are not used nearly as often as they once were.

This phrase makes me wince with how unnecessary it is. Can we get the people who despise the word “moist” to set up a petition to phase out actually pointless phrases from the English language like this one? Don’t get rid of the word “moist” – otherwise how are we going to describe the pleasant almost-wetness of chocolate cakes and towelettes?

No, get rid of phrases like “half a dozen”. And for that matter, “baker’s dozen”. Who uses that phrase these days? Do actual bakers even use it? Who employs twice as many syllables as is necessary when simply describing thirteen of something? …Come to think of it, I’m not even sure that thirteen of something ever arises in day-to-day life. When does one see exactly thirteen cows in a field, or need to order exactly thirteen donuts to go? Thirteen is a number that we actively avoid because of its unevenness, indivisibility and supposedly “unlucky” nature, so who needs to use “baker’s dozen” unless they’re petrified a 13-ton weight will fall from the sky and crush them in a Pythonesque blaze of misfortune as soon as they leave the house if they mention the word “thirteen”?

Wow, I get really hot under the collar about these things.


1 comment on “ Word of the day: half a dozen ”

  • Usually it’s foreigners taking issue with how Aussies say the time as “half -hour-“, instead of “half past -hour-“.

    For example, if it is 2:30pm but you ask me ask me the time, I will say “half two”.

    Now you (allegedly) have no way of knowing if I meant 2:30 or 1:00.

    This gets me real fired up when people point it out 😛

    Anyway, you have come up with the reason people use this as your third point, it’s an approximation.

    If I’m going to think of “half a dozen” of something, I actually probably mean anywhere from 5 to 10 and the actual number doesn’t matter.

    To make you really rage, I’d be thinking “half a dozen” means more than “a few”, but less than “a dozen” and less than “a heap”. But not necessarily “more than a few” which is many, or “less than a dozen” which is only a few, or “less than a heap” which still might be a few or a dozen or only half a dozen.

    Aren’t you glad you posted? 🙂

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