Base ten and dozens of eggs.

If our counting system is base 10, why are eggs and donuts counted in dozens?

And what’s up with baker’s dozens anyway??

Inquiring minds want to know (and me)


The ancient Sumerians counted in base 12 and it lives on in eggs and doughnuts. The residents of Halifax, Nova Scotia, tend to have six fingers on each hand, which made counting in dozens especially easy. A fellow named Duncan Baker lived there about 100 years ago but he had six fingers on one hand and seven on the other. When he opened a donut shop he would count out a dozen on his fingers, thereby giving every customer an extra doughnut. This made Baker’s shop, which carried his first name, very popular and he spread his franchises across the continent. After his death his greedy and semi-literate descendents stopped the practice of giving thirteen doughnuts in a dozen and began ordering signs with Duncan’s name and his product misspelled.

snicker. Okay, seriously though…

Twelve is a convenient number for packaging. You can divide twelve up into three rows of four, two rows of six, two stacks of two-by-three…it makes for a neat package. So, bakers love to sell their wares in twelves. With ten, all you can make is two rows of five. Pretty oblong, and not so neat.

As far as the baker’s dozen, well, the answer is in this old Straight Dope staff report. Basically, the law in jolly olde England was really harsh on bakers who sold “light loaves”, so bakers threw in an extra to make sure they made the minimum weight requirement. Better over a bit than under.

And finally, to head off the question of why hot dog buns come in a pack of eight while hot dogs come in a pack of ten, here’s the reason why.

LOL, dropzone. I always heard that the extra, thirteenth item was baked for Satan. Unlucky 13, and all that. See Wikipedia’s entry for more info.

dropzome, we liked all your urban legends! Lol

Might this be because quantity has no inherent relationship to the base of the number system in which it’s expressed?

There must be one, but I’m having trouble thinking of any food item that tends to be sold 10 at a time.

We’re missing a decent, general term for a group of ten things. Yeah, okay, 10 centuries is a millenium, and 10 years is a decade. I guess we could say, “gimme a decade of rolls” but I don’t like the sound of that. And, no, just ordering “10” isn’t the same thing, because you’re now talking about 10 individual things rather than a single thing, which is a group of individual things. Better exemplified: give me 3 decades of donuts. Hmmm… we say “10’s of things,” so maybe, “Give me 3 tens of doughnuts for my meeting.”

So until we come up with the perfect 10, we’re stuck with dozen.

Doesn’t matter. We’ve been using “decades” in that fashion for … centuries.

Decimal Dozen?

But isn’t it the result, rather than the cause?

Dropzone, I’m embarrassed to admit that you actually had me going there for about 12 - 13 seconds. :rolleyes:

Because a dozen is also a recognized unit of measure.

And what’s up with baker’s dozens anyway??


IIRC, it had to do with in years past law required a dozen of a baked good have a certain weight. Given that it was possible one unit would be underweight, the baker tossed in an extra one making 13. Thus guaranteeing after selling a dozen units, the bag he sold met the standard.

[animaniacs]Oh, great Guru, why are hot dogs sold in packs of 10, and buns sold in packs of 12?[/animaniacs]

So until we come up with the perfect 10, we’re stuck with dozen.

“You want a full dozen donuts?”
“No, we always end up throwing a couple out. Just make it a derek.”

Incidentally, long before Animaniacs, this showed up in the Principia Discordia as “… and hot dog buns sold in packs of 8?”.

Actually, dropzone isn’t completely wrong on all parts. A lot of our numbering systems are based on 12s (seconds per minute, degree measure, etc), and most of those go back to Sumeria or Babylon. My own take on why that is: 12 is the first abundant number, which is a number whose proper divisors add up to more than the number itself. This is as distinguished from, say, perfect numbers.

[/end shameless self-promotion]


unless you consider hexidecimal to be octal :slight_smile:


Also, I just remembered: 12 is the number of perfect fifths that almost makes up a multiple of an octave. Thus, adjusting each note to bring it back within a single octave, you’ll fill up that interval with 12 almost-equal divisions: the half-steps.

It’s been so long ago that I can’t remember the last time I encountered a baker which actually dispensed its wares in baker’s dozens. Getting 13 items meant paying for 13 items.

Maybe I misunderstood this post. I checked the WIKI article and found nothing about the thirteenth item being for Satan. I would think people would want to avoid thirteen items if they were superstitious.