When I use a word …: FortysomethingBMJ 1997; 314 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.314.7095.0h (Published 07 June 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:h
- Jeff Aronson, is a clinical pharmacologist in Oxford
Before people invented systems of arithmetic they used their fingers to count. This meant that anything more than a few was an indeterminately large number, as it was to the rabbits in Watership Down, who could count up to four, any number above which was Hrair–“a lot” or “a thousand.”
The number 40 was used in this indeterminate way, and the Bible, in which only the number seven is mentioned more often, overflows with instances. Noah's ark was afloat for 40 days and 40 nights; it took 40 days to embalm Jacob; the Children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years and Moses spent 40 days and nights on Mount …
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