On Numbers

Seventeen a brief history.

Seventeen is perhaps an easy number to ignore. Stuck forever between eighteen and sixteen, seventeen is often overlooked, even by numerologists. Seventeen may not be as popular as one, eight, a million or three, but the number we call seventeen has a rich history and a deep impact upon our society, perhaps greater even than that of fifty-two.

The seventeenth number ever discovered, seventeen is known in France as dix-sept. Like many other prime numbers, seventeen is divisible only by itself and one, though in base-six math seventeen is represented by “25,” which, in base-ten, is not a prime number.

The originators of mathematics, the Sumerians, were the first to develop seventeen, which they called sebešer and represented in cuneiform as a symbol. It would take over three millennia before it would transform into the Roman “XVII.” After the development of Islamic culture, XVII was replaced by the standard Arabic numeral 17.

Throughout history, kings, popes, emperors and the heads of major corporations have used the number seventeen. Even celebrities such as Madonna, Howard Hughes and Bruce Vilanche have, in the course of counting, utilized the number seventeen. Important works such as The Bible feature many chapters known by the numerical designation “Seventeen.” The foundation of American government, a document called The Constitution, even features a section called “The Seventeenth Amendment.” It is the seventeenth of the many amendments to this important and historic document.

Of course, seventeen is not just a stuffy number consigned to old, musty documents. Indeed seventeen is still a vital and important number that continues to permeate the popular culture of modern society. There is a glossy, quiz and makeup tip filled magazine which carries the name Seventeen on its masthead. Ohio powerpop band Manda and the Marbles released, in 2005, a song titled “Seventeen.” First-ranked NASCAR™ driver Matt Kenseth’s DeWalt logo-covered car bears the number seventeen and basketball star John Havlicek proudly wore a Boston basket ball team shirt on which was embroidered the number seventeen.

Of all the 1,207 numbers that exist today, seventeen is perhaps one of the most underrated and yet one of the most intriguing and important. Like twelve or seventy-eight, seventeen is one of the numbers that people enjoy. Seventeen is cool.

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1 thought on “On Numbers

  1. ‘Ship-chil’ is the Sino-Korean word for seventeen. It may also be said in pure Korean as ‘Yul-Il-gop’. I am disappointed in your lack of proper research on the subject of such a profoundly important numeral.

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