As you (of course) recall, Bilbo said his farewell to the Shire at his eleventy-first birthday party. Apparently ‘eleventy-one’ is a perfectly good word in the Shire, which leads one to infer that Hobbits have a mathematical terminology all their own, not necessarily aligned with plain old mundane decimal arithmetic.
In Chapter VII of The Hobbit, when Gandalf was slowly introducing Beorn to the members of Thorin’s Company (a scene sadly omitted from the wretched Peter Jackson films), Beorn offered this parenthetical comment:
‘But look here, Gandalf, even now we have only got yourself and ten dwarves and the hobbit that was lost. That only makes eleven (plus one mislaid) and not fourteen, unless wizards count differently to other people.’
Wizards may count differently to other people, for all I know, but Hobbits definitely do: at least when they are counting birthdays past 109. ‘Eleventy’ is a good word all the same, and deserves to be used more often. Indeed, say I, there ought to be a special dispensation to extend the eleventies beyond the customary ten years of a decade. A man of 121 ought to be proud to announce his age as eleventy-’leven; and today, the third of January, 2014, is, I am honoured to observe, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s eleventy-twelfth birthday.
Beyond eleventy-twelve, I fear, we shall have to let arithmetic take its course. ‘Twelvety’ is an awkward word, and neither ‘twelvety-three’ nor ‘eleventy-thirteen’ quite has the right sound for a number. We therefore stand at the apex and terminus of that whole line of linguistic development. Eleventy-twelve is the top.
So let us pause awhile on this summit, looking far and wide over Middle-earth, and salute the learned author who acquainted us with the first Three Ages of its previously untold history. Mr. J. R. R. Tolkien is a real gentlehobbit, I always have said, whatever you may think of some others of the name, begging your pardon. So here’s to him, in Niggle’s Parish, or the Delectable Mountains, or wherever he may be; and may God rest his soul still, and grant him joy of his journeys!