5th is fifth, 4th is fourth, 3rd is third, 2nd is second. People in races come fifth, fourth, third, and second. Divisions are one fifth, one fourth, one third, and one half?

Why is it one half and not one second, following the ordinal numbers?

  • It's always seemed to me that it should be "tooth" (and "threeth"). – Hot Licks Apr 23 '16 at 12:46
  • @HotLicks Wouldn't that be spelled twoth? – WS2 Apr 23 '16 at 13:20
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    If you said "one second" instead of "one half", it would be understood as seconds of time, perhaps. i.e. one sixtieth of a minute (1/60, not 160) ;) – NVZ Apr 23 '16 at 15:58
  • @WS2 - Not with my lisp. – Hot Licks Apr 23 '16 at 21:05

I suppose because, in the everyday speech of ordinary people, the use of half long predated the other fractions.

This is the earliest entry in the OED, from the year 835.

Charter in Old Eng. Texts 447, & him man selle an half swulung an ciollan dene.

Whereas the earliest reference to third as a fraction (as opposed to an ordinal number) is from half a millennium later ▸c1384.

Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (Douce 369(2)) (1850) 1 Macc. x. 29 Nowe Y assoile ȝou..of tributis, and I forȝeue to ȝou the pricis of salt, and forȝeue crownys, and the thriddis [a1425 L.V. thridde part] of seed.

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