Crossed Digits

“Digits crossed!” is an expression that my friends and I use when we are hoping for things to turn out well—with double the power of “fingers crossed!” Yes, we hope to ensure this by metaphorically crossing not just the fingers, but also the toes.

In today’s ‘digital age’ where the digit-related terms  are so commonly used—digitization, digital camera, digital natives, digital divide, digital detox….we relate the word only to numbers. We seem to have forgotten that the word’s anatomical meaning. The word digit has its roots in the Latin root word digitus which means “finger or toe,” and English borrowed from this to mean “number.”

In fact, the practice of calling numbers digits comes from the digits on the hands — specifically, the habit of counting to ten on one’s fingers.

The digit in this sense was also a unit of measurement, long ago when  people used their hands and arms for measuring things. The width of a first finger was called a digit. This was used to measure things. The width of a palm was called a hand breadth. The width of an outstretched hand was called a span. The distance between an elbow and the tip of the longest finger was called a cubit.

The Egyptians had a standard length from the elbow to the middle fingertip, a distance of about 45-50 cm which they called a cubit. The width of the hand or four fingers was called a palm or hand and was about 9-10 cm. Hands is still used for measuring horses.

The ancient fathom was the distance between the outstretched arms about 1.8 metres. It is still used for measuring depth at sea.

The foot may have come from an ancient Babylonian brick measurement but in fact it works out to the approximate length of a man’s foot about 30 cm. The finger became an inch, which the Roman’s made one-twelfth of a foot.

In this digital age, if you want to sound smart, you can refer to your finger, thumb, or toe as a digit!

If you want to sound smarter still, go digital in Latin!

Here’s what they are called:

Thumb Pollex

Index finger  (pointer finger, fore finger) Digitus Secundus Manus

Middle finger Digitus Medius Manus

Ring finger Digitus Annularis Manus

Pinky ( little finger) Digitus Minimus Manus

And keep your digits crossed!


source: Google

Crotchety Me!

Knitting. Not my area of natural comfort. The only time I did knit was when I was forced to, back in school. And were those booties and bonnets and ponchos disastrous! My needlework teacher ‘frogged’ them regularly (to fully understand the term, continue reading!).

Then why do a piece on knitting-related terms?

Because a dear friend just gifted me a beautiful crocheted shawl. I have been looking at it all week and appreciating the beauty of the piece, the patience that has gone in, and the centuries of tradition behind it. So here is to my friend Mahashwetha and knitters and crotcheters across the world who bring beauty and warmth (pun intended) to our lives.


Since the gift is crocheted, not knitted, we will begin with ‘crotchety’ terms.

Crochet: ‘Crotchet’ is from a very old French word for ‘small hook,’ and the verb means ‘sewing with a hooked needle’. ‘Crotchet’ has been in use in this sense since the 15th century.

Crotchety: By late 16th century, ‘crotchet’ was also being used to mean ‘an odd whim or peculiar notion.’ The logic of this seems to be that strange ideas or unusual behavior are mental ‘twists’! A person with odd ideas and habits came to be described as ‘full of crotchets’ or simply ‘crotchety,’ a term which first appeared around 1847. “Crotchety” is now also used in place of “grouchy”.

Knitting commemorates people!

Cardigan: Knitted jackets or sweaters open down the front have been around for several centuries, but the term cardigan came into use in 1862. The cardigan was named after the seventh earl of Cardigan (a county in Wales) who sported such jackets during the Crimean War.

Raglan: The word raglan also came into use during the Crimean War. It is named after Cardigan’s commanding officer, the first Baron Raglan. During the war, Raglan wore a loose-fitting overcoat with sleeves that extended all the way to the neckline instead of stopping at the shoulder. Originally raglan referred to the overcoat; it now can also refer to the style of sleeve.
And animals too!
Frog: What happens when a knitting project doesn’t go well? Well, a knitter frogs it. Frog is knitting slang for “ripping out” knitting: taking the piece off the needles, and unraveling it quickly. It’s not unique to knitting: crocheters frog their work, and needleworkers also frog stitches that aren’t right.

As well as places…

English knitting: Also called right-handed knitting, this is the method of knitting in which the working yarn in is held in the right hand.

Continental knitting: This is a method of knitting in which the working yarn is held in the left hand.

Knitting terms confuse…

Ravel: The verb ravel can mean “to knit together.” It can also mean “to unspool, unknit, or unravel.” Ravel is a contronym (or Janus word), a word with meanings that contradict each other.
End note

If you thought only music had its own notation, turns out knitting does too! Just to start you off….

BO: bind off (cast off)

CC: contrasting color

cn: cable needle

CO: cast on

dec:: decrease

dpn(s): double-pointed needle(s)

inc: increase

kfb: knit into the front and back of the stitch (an increase)

knitwise: as if to knit

And so on…
• Terms and abbreviations used in Knitting Patterns. Kristi Porter.

In Fashion

“Fashion sometimes ignores convenience, sometimes even causes inconvenience. All fashions may not have great thinking behind them, and sometimes thinking people fall prey to fashion.

Children of fashion-conscious parents have also to swim with the tides of the times. Children are often made to exhibit what parents find fashionable or what is ‘in style’ at the moment.

Take an example of girls’ dresses. Most of these have buttons at the back. No one knows who thought of this style, but children wear it, parents demand it and tailors stitch accordingly. So far, so good.

But what happens when a child wears a dress with buttons at the back. “Mother do my buttons.””Papa please fasten my hooks.” The parents are hassled with other tasks. The mother calls for the older sister. “Help her with her buttons”, or she calls for the servant,”Why don’t you close the buttons for her?”

The child with her own two hands is helpless. She is dependent on someone else to complete dressing. She cannot go out unless someone is there to button her up. She has to request, or plead, or shout for this. She is dependent all for the sake of being dressed in the fashion, a dress with buttons at the back!

That is just for dressing. What about undressing?

If the dress gets wet the child cannot take it off. If she is feeling hot, she can’t take it off. And, heaven forbid, if her dress catches fire, she can’t take it off.

But still the child wears such dresses. She likes them because her parents do. They like them because they want their child to be ‘well dressed.’

But fashion is really a series of fads. Started somewhere by someone who wants to be different, it sometimes catches on, and then everyone wants to follow blindly.

Sometimes the glamour of being different, or being in style blinds people to the basic tenets of simplicity, comfort, and practicality in the way they dress.

We might, as adults, indulge in this. But when it comes to our children we must first think of their comfort and convenience with respect to what they wear. Even infants often show distinct preferences for what they like, or do not like, to wear.

At our Balmandir we have a ‘front button’ attendance. Children whose clothes have buttons at the back take home a note requesting parents to get them clothes with buttons in the front. And parents do make an attempt to do so.

Sometimes they have not even thought about the difference it would make: that changing the orientation of a few buttons is indeed rendering a great service to their child.”

This is not taken from, nor meant for, a magazine on New-age Parenting. These words were written in the early 1930s–nearly 90 years ago, by my grandfather. The author Gijubhai Badheka is well known not only as the creator of some of the best loved and popular children’s literature in Gujarat, but equally for his writings for parents and teachers. He was also one of the pioneers of the Montessori system of education in India. Gijubhai observed children and adults and recorded his thoughts; he described dilemmas faced by both, and explored how these could be handled. Many of these were complied in a series of books in Gujarati called It Is Not Easy Being Parents.

This is one of the many pieces translated from the original Gujarati by me.