D is for dirty dozen (ABC W)

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band is a New Orleans, Louisiana ensemble established in 1977.

A dozen is, of course, a grouping of twelve. But WHY do we gravitate for this non-decimal collective?

Wikipedia suggests the dozen may be one of the earliest primitive groupings, perhaps because there are approximately a dozen cycles of the moon or months in a cycle of the sun or year.” This, of course, then relates to the number of characters in astrology.

“Twelve is convenient because it has the most divisors of any number under 18. The use of twelve as a base number, known as the duodecimal system (also as dozenal), originated in Mesopotamia… Twelve dozen (12X12 = 144) are known as a gross; and twelve gross (12X12X12 = 1,728, the duodecimal 1,000) are called a great gross, a term most often used when shipping or buying items in bulk.

“A baker’s dozen, also known as a big or long dozen, is 13. Varying by country, some products are packaged or sold by the dozen, often foodstuff (a dozen eggs). Dozen may also be used to express a large number of items as in ‘several dozen’ (ex. dozens of people came to the party).”

The dozens is a slang term – which I’ve never heard – for “a ritualized game typically engaged in by two persons each of whom attempts to outdo the other in insults directed against members of the other’s family (usually used in the phrase play the dozens).”

Another definition I was not familiar with is “to talk incessantly.” Synonyms include prattle, blabber, run off at the mouth, and talk the hind legs off a donkey. Example sentence:
“She talks nineteen to the dozen, amusingly, self-deprecatingly, practically, irreverently.”

The term Dirty Dozen has several references, including:

Twelve less than desirable traits: in EWG’s 2016 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™, e.g.

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band is a New Orleans, Louisiana ensemble established in 1977. They show up on two cuts of my favorite Elvis Costello album, Spike. Here’s The Flintstones Meet The President.

The 1967 movie The Dirty Dozen I saw in a drive-in theater when I was a teenager. It had a cast of then and future all-stars including Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas, Robert Webber, Donald Sutherland, and George Kennedy.

ABC Wednesday – Round 20

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

13 thoughts on “D is for dirty dozen (ABC W)”

  1. Bo Diddley’s big hit “Say Man” isn’t exactly the dozens, but it has the right pace and the right attitudes.

  2. How fascinating your explanation … I’ve never thought of it, nor wondered why but it al seems to fit.

    Over here in The Netherlands we have a saying, the number 12 incorporated, we sometimes use to define something or someone to another person “als twaalf in een dozijn” …. which, literally translated : Like 12 in a dozen… Figuratively it means something like, nothing special, as normal as the next one…

  3. You know, I’ve never considered this but having to teach math to kids using the decimal system, I always thought in terms of 10. Fascinating post.

    abcw team

  4. Didn’t know about a baker’s dozen:) And I liked the movie Dirty Dozen (wow, was it that long ago it came out? – Time is getting away from me!) Have a great week, Roger.

  5. Very interesting post and you remind me of such an old movie: Dirty Dozen. It’s a good one.I haven’t seen it for a long time.Now I want to watch it again 🙂

  6. Yes when I think about it 12 does appear a lot in ancient mythologies and religions. What a great cast in the dirty dozen. Your ‘pesticides’ link does not seem to work so that is one, or should I say 12 more things, I won’t worry about (ignorance is bliss and all that).

  7. This is a very interesting post. I was not familiar with the slang usage nor the other definition of talking incessantly.

  8. Another interesting post Roger, your mind is brimming with facts and
    I worked in a bank in 1971 when decimalization came into the currency
    system, one of the jobs I had to do was to convert the ÂŁ shillings and
    pence into the decimalized system.
    Therefore there was 240 pence in the pound (all divisible by 12) but changing
    into the decimalized system there would be 100 pence in the pound (all divisble by 10).
    [Old currency] [New decimalized currency]
    ÂŁ1(one pound) =100 pence
    10 shillings = 50pence
    5 shillings = 25pence
    2 shillings = 20pence
    1 shilling = 5pence

    I shall never forget working until 10pm the night before D-Day converting every customers account over to the decimal system……all done by mental arithmetic
    no calculators in those days.
    Best Regards,
    ABCW team.

  9. I wonder if I can work dozen (prattle) into a conversation easily. It has a nice sound to it. I’ve always liked the # 12 because that’s the # of my birth day and month. A double dozen.

  10. Wasn’t 12 a sacred number in the Middle East, as seen with the emergence of the 12 Apostles as a very important part of the construction of Christian mythology?

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