Georgian Math is Weird

Please note that the contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps. 

We often think of math as universal, specifically how we use those numbers in every day life. As may languages stem from the same sources, they share similarities in their math. Shifting bases (e.g. binary) isn't a modern phenomenon. After all, our time keeping is a base 60 system. None the less, I was surprised to see how numbers in Georgia turn some notions on their head.

Counting is fairly standardized as a base ten system. Not so in Georgia. Its a weird amalgam of base 10 and base 20. Your numbers are normal though ten, arguably even the teens. From 11-19 the numbers quite literally break down as "ten X more", where X is 1-9. So, 16 is "ten six more". Twenty is also normal, it being twenty. Then things go left.

After twenty, each number literally translates as "X times twenty and Y". X is two, three, or four, and Y is a number from 1-19. So, where we say "fifty-seven", Georgians say "two times twenty and ten seven more". Only, image that in the awesome looking Georgian script, something like ორმოცდაჩვიდმეტი.

OK, so its strange, but I can handle things that follow a pattern, but when we hit 100, its just hundred. Then two hundred, three hundred, and so forth until one thousand. So its only a base 20 system through 99, which makes it all sorts of confusing for folks.

Then there's time... 

Georgians use the same clocks everyone else does. They just read them differently. Each hour is just number + hour (e.g. three hour for 3 o'clock), except 1:00, which is "first hour". Not so bad until you move off the hour.

All other time is based on the next hour. So if you want to say 3:30, in English you say three-thirty or half past three. Here you say four's half or a half hour until four. For anything less than the half hour, you have a different form. Let's say you want to say 3:15, the Georgian is roughly translated as "15 minutes towards four". You don't mention the 3 o'clock, just the next hour you are going to. Similarly, for a time after the half hour it is also different. So if you want to say 3:45, what you are saying is roughly "four lacks 15 minutes". This last one isn't too different from what we sometimes say in America, (e.g. fifteen 'til four), but it is an entirely different phrasing and structure. Plus, when you start saying at a particular time, everything looks very different.


I don't know why Georgian numbers developed this way, but they certainly put a new spin on things. I like to think that their time keeping practice is that of an eternal optimist: It's kinda like saying the glass is half full all the time.