What Does One Score Mean?

What Does One Score Mean?You may have heard a score described as a quantity and wondered what that meant. A 20 is a good score. Although the term is no longer commonly used, it can be found throughout literature and history.

Where Did the Number “20” Come From?

Around 1100, the term “score” was originally used to refer to a group of 20 objects. The term “score” was used to describe the process of counting sheep or cattle herds. Shepherds or cattle workers would count 20 sheep or cows and mark them on a stick to signify that they had done so. Counting by scores enabled livestock handlers to keep track of vast numbers of cattle or sheep without losing track.

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The Word “Score” Has a Long History

The term “score” is derived from the Old Norse word “skor,” which meant “to notch.” People who looked after livestock used a stick with notches on it to remember how many cows they had counted. As a result, the word “score” came to be associated with the number 20.

Ancient Counting Methodologies

People employed different counting systems from the ancient world until the Middle Ages, much like we do today with twos, fives, and tens. Numbering by dozens, for example, is a throwback to ancient counting systems.

Other ancient counting systems include Roman numerals, which are frequently seen in old films. A film from 1938, for example, might have the year written as MCMXXXVIII, with each letter of the Roman number signifying a distinct value.

Scores in Ancient Texts

Counting by scores is mentioned in the Bible and other literature. Counts of scores can be seen in older Bible versions like the King James Version. Exodus 15:27 is an example of counting by scores in the Bible. The Israelites came across 70 palm trees, often known as “threescore and ten palm palms.”

In well-known literature, such as Shakespeare’s plays, the term “score” can also refer to 20 of something. In

“Threescore and ten I can remember well,” an elderly Macbeth remarks. He implies that he can recall the previous 70 years of his life.

Famous Speeches’ Scores

There are examples of American speakers using the word “score” to denote a total of 20. The speaker can make a point that sounds like something out of the Bible or literature by counting in that manner. Martin Luther King, for example, said “five score years ago” in his “I Have a Dream” address, referring to the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been in operation for 100 years.

“It was forty-seven years ago”

Of course, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is the most famous use of “score.” “Four score and seven years ago,” Lincoln said at the start of his famous speech. The year 87 relates to the signing of the Declaration of Independence by the Founding Fathers in 1776.

Misha Khatri
Misha Khatri is an emeritus professor in the University of Notre Dame's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. He graduated from Northern Illinois University with a BSc in Chemistry and Mathematics and a PhD in Physical Analytical Chemistry from the University of Utah.


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