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The Y chromosome makes men love big numbers

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  6 Jun 2015 12:00 AM GMT

The Funny Side

By Nury Vittachi

Disaster! I’ve been doing my new calorie-counting app wrong. I got a new high score every day. Then the wife tells me that the whole point is to get low scores. “So how do you win?” I asked. She said: “You don’t. People just do it for a few months and then give up.”

What’s the point? Grrr. Whoever designed this app knows nothing about the male brain. We are competitive. We like big numbers. If you ask a guy whether he would rather die of old age or be vaporized by a volley of a 100 anti-aircraft missiles, he’ll go for the big guns. We all have to go some time, right? On TV the other day, a guy said that Apple may become the first company to be worth a trillion US dollars. My male investment banker friends could hardly breathe. Even the Samsung “fanboys” in my social group wanted this to happen.

Smart educators can use the male urge to worship big stuff in schools when teaching arithmetic.

Teacher: “Okay, students, today, we’ll start with a math test: 25 times 43.” (Girls start writing. Boys look bored.)

Teacher: “People with Y chromosomes can calculate 25 billion times 43 billion.” (Boys suddenly get excited, start writing.)

An etymology expert told me that although there have been famous female mathematicians, the people who invent big numbers seem to be male. The word “million” was dreamed up by a Frenchman in 1270. Thus you should always say “million” with a French accent, like this: “Un meee-leee-ohnh,” assuming, of course, that you want to be revoltingly pretentious. Four centuries later, in 1670, English-speakers invented the word “milliard” to mean “a billion” (not a joke). But it was dropped. It was too easy to confuse “milliard” and “million”, and it would be tragic to marry a milliard-aire only to find he or she was a mere millioire, not worth getting out of bed for.

In ancient Chinese Buddhist texts, scholars found a number called “Number of grains of sand in the Ganges” or heng he sha, which was ten to the power of 52. (Someone must have actually counted them, probably as some sort of Bronze Age job creation scheme.)

Talking of huge numbers, at the time of writing this, the Chinese stock market’s turnover has been around one trillion yuan a day. It’s interesting, because almost 25 years ago, when I was a young business page reporter, there was one particular day I’ll never forget, when the Chinese stock market turnover was zero (also not a joke). On that date in 1990, not one share was bought, sold or swapped.

Luckily, business reporters can spout smart-sounding rubbish for hours, so I did. “Turnover was on the light side, holding steady at zero yuan for the first hour and the second hour and the third hour as the sidelines were hogged by the main players and indeed the minor players and even Mrs. Chan who pops in from the noodle shop next to the stock exchange...(blah, blah, blah).” The next time there’s a crash, I think we should just revive some of the old fincial terminology: “The stock market fell the number of grains of sand in the river Ganges last night.” (IANS)

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