Friday, January 19, 2007

Fun with "base six"

From the comment (by John Cowan) to this post on the Daily WTF. I'm not sure how this is in context, but still interesting. :)
It's not possible to predict "the" name of a base-6 system, as the existing and well-established names reflect multiple Latin and Greek derivations.

"Decimal" is from the Latin adjective for "a tenth part of", and if we had stuck to that, we'd have "dimidial" for base 2. Instead, we went with "binary", from the Latin for "in two parts". That would lead us to "octonary" for base 8, or if we stuck with the pattern of "decimal" we'd get "octonal", but no, we have "octal", apparently from a lame analogy with "decimal". "Ternary" is more often seen now for base 3, in strict analogy to "binary", but "trinary" is perfectly good Latin too.

As for "hexadecimal", it's half Greek half Latin, and was probably imposed by higher-ups at IBM for the engineers' original "sexadecimal" (though "sextidecimal" would have been better Latin all around).

So use "senary" or "sextenary", or "sexal" if you must, or replace the "s" with "h" in any of these if you feel you have to. Or do something else. Or say "base six" in plain English; it's short.
Personally, I'm with the IBM Engineers. Us nerds would have earned the world's respect decades earlier if they'd gone with "sexadecimal" instead of "hexidecimal" (that or our profession would have been overrun by frat boys, and we'd all be programming in BASIC).

Sometimes you got to dig for the good stuff. Geek out.


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