by Kathy Wolfe

Five, six, seven, eight! This week, Tidbits is counting up the facts on the number eight.

• The Latin word for “eight” is “octo,” a prefix that lends itself to numerous English words. An octosyllable is a word with eight syllables. In poetry, an octonary is a stanza of eight lines. An octahedron is a three-dimensional shape having eight plane faces, while an octagon is a polygon with eight sides, such as a STOP sign.

      In the world of music, there are eight tones in an octave, which is the distance or interval between two pitches with the same letter name, where one has double the frequency of the other. The octatonic scale has eight notes – if you sing them, it’s “do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do.” Eight musicians playing or singing together is an octet.

    In meteorology, the amount of clouds in the sky is measured in oktas, determined by the cloud cover at any given location. It’s a measure of how many eighths of the sky are covered, ranging from 0 oktas, a completely clear sky, 1 to 2 oktas for a few clouds, 3 to 4 oktas for broken cover, 5 to 7 for overcast, up to 8 oktas for completely overcast. Oktas only refer to cloud cover and do not account for type or thickness of clouds.

What does an octopus have – eight arms, legs, or tentacles? Some scientists say it has eight arms and no tentacles, while other marine experts say the octopus has six arms and two legs. They have observed the cephalopods using the two limbs on the rear of their bodies to crawl around the sea floor, pushing themselves over rocks and the sea bed. The other six limbs are for feeding and propulsion through the water. Did you know that the average octopus has 240 little suction cups on its appendages, with the larger ones capable of holding 35 lbs. (15.9 kg)? The octopus’ body has the ability to re-grow damaged or lost arms.

    In January, 2009, Nadya Suleman gave birth to eight babies, the world’s first surviving octuplets. Within days, the media had nicknamed her “Octomom.” The octuplets (conceived through in-vitro fertilization) joined six other siblings.

Some folks suffer from an irrational fear of the number eight. That condition is known as octophobia.

•    So if “Octo” means eight, why is October the tenth month of the year? The early Roman calendar had just 10 months, with the year starting at the vernal equinox in March. With the last six months of that calendar named using numerical prefixes, Quintilis was the fifth month, Sextilis the sixth, September the seventh, October the eighth, November the ninth, and December the tenth. The Roman calendar was replaced with the Julian calendar, which added two months, January and February, to the beginning, which shifted the other months by two months. The result was that the numerical prefixes no longer match the order, with October moved from the eighth to the tenth month. 

Can you name the eight original reindeer belonging to Santa? They are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen. The animals were first identified in the 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” (better known as “The Night Before Christmas”) by Clement Clarke Moore. Moore originally penned the story to entertain his young daughters. Rudolph didn’t come along 1939, when the Chicago department store Montgomery Ward commissioned copywriter Robert May to come up with an illustrated coloring book to hand out to children at Christmas. May toyed with naming the reindeer Rollo or Reginald before coming up with Rudolph.

In China, the number eight is considered a very lucky one, signifying prosperity and fortune. The eighth day of the Chinese New Year is symbolic of the annual gathering of all the gods in heaven. When the Summer Olympics were held in Beijing in 2008, the opening ceremony began on 8/8/08 at 8 minutes and 8 seconds past 8 PM. A resident of China has to pay extra in order for their phone number or license plate to include the number 8.   

    You might call it a hashtag when posting in Twitter, a pound sign when using your cell phone keypad, or a number sign when designating numerals, but the official name of that symbol is octothorpe. Some have credited Bell Telephone with the invention of the word around 1971 when planning ahead for its use on touch-tone telephone keypads. It literally translates “eight small villages,” but linquists agree that the “octo” refers to the number of ends of the lines.

    The game of chess is played on a board made up of 64 squares arranged in an eight-by-eight pattern. Each player has eight pawns.

    In the game of pool, there are 15 colored balls – 7 solid, 7 striped, and the black 8-ball. When racking the balls for a game, the 8-ball should always be located at the center of the rack, two rows from the top and two rows from the bottom of the triangular rack. A player forfeits the game if his/her cue ball hits the 8-ball first. After the player has pocketed all of his/her colored balls, the player must call which pocket the 8-ball will be going in. If the 8-ball goes into any other pocket other than that one, the opposing player wins. In addition, even if the 8-ball does go into the called pocket, if the cue ball is also pocketed, the player loses to the opponent.

    In 1948, Albert Carter received a patent for a new toy known as the magic eight-ball, a sphere used for fortune-telling or seeking advice. Fashioned after the eight-ball in a game of billiards, Carter was inspired to create the ball based on a spirit-writing device used by his mother, who was a clairvoyant. Mattel began producing the toy in 1950. Any one of 20 different answers can appear in the window on the bottom of the ball. Ten are affirmative, including “it is certain,” “without a doubt,” “you may rely on it,” and “outlook good.” Five are negative, such as “don’t count on it,” “my sources say no,” and “very doubtful,” while five are non-committal answers, including “better not tell you now” and “concentrate and ask again.” The magic eight-ball is still manufactured to this day.