Tough Pigs Anthology

Sept 2003


Back to School

Part 3: Spies Like Us


   Now we turn to The Sesame Street Book of Numbers -- or, as we find out in the Note To Adults at the back, perhaps it should be The Sesame Street Book of Numerals.





   WHAT'S NEW IN NUMBERS? is the heading that raises eyebrows in the Note To Adults. Can there really be anything new in numbers? As it turns out, yes. And I quote:


   "There is, these days, a distinction made between the words number and numeral. What most adults refer to as the number (5, 6, or 3, for instance) is now officially called the numeral. In other words, the particular shape, '3', which is called 'three,' is only a shape, and the name is only a word. Neither are actually three of anything. They are just symbols for an amount.


   "But an illustration of three objects really does show the number involved. For instance, O O O does demonstrate the number three. When you show a numeral to your child, tell him the correct name ('this numeral is called three'). But when he is investigating a group of three things, he is investigating the 'number' three. You may not often use the word 'number' when talking with your child. You will probably ask 'Where are three things?'."


   Well, actually, I may not often use the word "number" when talking with my child, because I'm too busy downing my valium with a scotch chaser. Are you people entirely out of your minds? 





   No, they're serious. "The reason for the distinction is clear. No matter what symbol is used to represent 'three,' the idea of what 'three' actually means remains the same. Most adults still use the word 'number' to mean both number and numeral, but the difference is important to keep in mind when you're helping your child. 


   "For one thing, it is easy for a small child to learn a numeral but not learn the number it represents. The child who can count to ten easily but has trouble showing you five pencils has fallen into this trap."


   Well, who the hell wants five pencils, anyway? I'd be satisfied if my kid could identify one pencil in three guesses, if it means he won't grow up saying "numeral." 


   Here's my personal Note To Adults: A kid who says "numeral" today will be saying "whom" tomorrow. From there, it's a slippery slope to writing a 7 with a little line through the middle. And before you know it, you've raised a Republican, and it serves you right.





   "Another reason we have pointed out the difference" -- as if you need another -- "is that when your child begins school, he will probably become involved with the distinction. It is easier to start him with the correct terms now than to have to change his mind later."


   Excuse me. He will become involved with the distinction? Your honor, I rest my case. No further questions.



Next: How You Can Tell It's 1970



Tough Pigs Anthology Contents

July 2003 -- The Jim Henson Hour: Monster Telethon

June 2003 -- The Jim Henson Hour: Science Fiction

April/May 2003 -- Breaking News: Sesame Street News Flashes

March 2003 -- The Muppet Show Comic Strip

Feb 2003 -- Ernie vs Bert

Aug/Sept 2002 -- The Road to Hollywood

July 2002 -- The Decline and Fall of Gorch, part two: The Fall

June 2002 -- The Decline and Fall of Gorch, part one: The Decline

May 2002 -- Giant Frogs!

April 2002 -- April Frog's Day

March 2002 -- The Muppets Take Madison Avenue

February 2002 -- Kermit and Piggy : That Magnificent Hankering

January 2002 -- Off the Street

December 2001 -- It Feels Like Christmas

November 2001 -- Muppets: 1, Host: 0