1

This question was inspired by a tweet from the FakeUnicode Twitter account, a semi-novelty account sharing various examples in the wild of bugs, glitches and other unintended results from improperly implementing the Unicode character encoding standard.

What are the English ordinal suffixes of various mathematical constants and concepts? Is it always -th?

πᵗʰ
𝑒ᵗʰ
ℎᵗʰ
𝑖ᵗʰ
φᵗʰ
∞ᵗʰ
ℵ₀ᵗʰ
𝑔₆₄ᵗʰ

[Try saying these aloud for extra fun]
source: https://twitter.com/FakeUnicode/status/1086205723736854528

How does the English language decline ordinal suffixes for numbers that are displayed in a different way than an Arabic number?

  • This would be used with an ordinal, but it could be a symbol, like your example h. And note! For something like $n+1$ you have to add "st" not "th". – GEdgar Jan 18 at 11:53
  • 3
    @GEdgar I can't agree with your note. The element n+1 of a series is the n+1th element. This is because , as the value of n is a variable, the number which is suffixed is (n+1) and the ordinal for (n+1) is (n+1)th. For example if n=21 then the n+1th element is the 22nd, if n= 27 the n+1th element is the 28th. Only elements whose number is known can have any suffix other than 'th' because it is the most general. – BoldBen Jan 18 at 12:09
  • I just count "oneth, tooth, threeth, forth, fifeth ..." and be done with it! – Hot Licks Jan 18 at 13:10
  • In Lojban it's easy. 'moi' can be added after any numeral string. – Jacob Stewart Jan 18 at 13:25
  • 1
    Just a note: using ordinal suffixes for things other ordinal concepts is not standard. A πᵗʰ element of a list doesn't really have a next or previous element (and if you want to make a case for that, best over at math.SE). We can talk all day about unicorn, unicorns, unicornized, unicornically, but talking about them don't make them actual things. Except being ghosted; that's just not nice. – Mitch Jan 18 at 13:41
2

In English orthography, there are four ordinal indicators: st, nd, rd for 1, 2, and 3, and th for all the rest, including variables or unreal numbers. Writing the indicator as a superscript, with or without underlining, derives from the practice of Latin scribes.

This is an orthographic convention only loosely connected to the spoken language: whether you can actually pronounce the result, or, when able, you sound like you have a severe lisp, is irrelevant.

One such construction escaped mathematical jargon about as soon as there were enough educated speakers to know what it meant:

…here was beauty—and art—developed to the n’th degree, perfumes, the delicate swish of silk, a being that his arms ached for—and that day passionately clasped. — Gilbert Parker, “The Empty Cruse,” Aspen Evening Chronicle (CO), 23 Mar. 1893.

More contemporary writers simply use nth:

An almost entirely black canvas takes the black square of Malevich to the nth degree. — LA Downtown News, 10 Apr. 2017.

One suspects that had nth yielded as absurd a pronunciation as some of your examples, it never would have made the leap from the classroom into popular language.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.