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number, n.

Keywords:
Quotations:
Forms: 

α. ME nobre (transmission error), ME noimbre, ME nombir, ME nombyre, ME nommbyre, ME nonbir, ME nonbr (transmission error), ME noubre (transmission error), ME noumbir, ME noumbur, ME nounbir, ME nounbre, ME nounbur, ME novmbre, ME nowmber, ME nowmbre, ME nowmbur, ME nowmbyre, ME nownbere, ME numbere, ME numbir, ME numbur, ME numbyr, ME nunbyr, ME–15 nombar, ME–15 nombre, ME–15 nombyr, ME–15 noumber, ME–15 noumbre, ME–15 numbre, ME–15 (17 English regional) nombur, ME–16 nomber, ME– number, 15 noombre, 15 noumar, 18 numbeh (U.S. regional); Scottish pre-17 nimber, pre-17 nombeir, pre-17 nomber, pre-17 nombir, pre-17 nombre, pre-17 nomebar, pre-17 nomeber, pre-17 nommber, pre-17 noumber, pre-17 noumbre, pre-17 nowmber, pre-17 nowmbyre, pre-17 numbir, pre-17 numbre, pre-17 numbrie, pre-17 numbyr, pre-17 nummber, pre-17 nwmber, pre-17 17– number.

β. lME nommer (chiefly northern), lME noumer (chiefly northern), lME nowmer (chiefly northern), lME nowmyr (chiefly northern), lME nummer (chiefly northern), lME–15 nowmere (chiefly northern), lME–15 nowmmer (chiefly northern); Scottish pre-17 newmer, pre-17 nomare, pre-17 nomer, pre-17 nomere, pre-17 nomir, pre-17 nommer, pre-17 nomor, pre-17 nomyr, pre-17 noumer, pre-17 nouwmyr, pre-17 novmer, pre-17 novmere, pre-17 novmyr, pre-17 nowmer, pre-17 nowmere, pre-17 nowmir, pre-17 nowmyr, pre-17 nowmyre, pre-17 numeir, pre-17 numere, pre-17 numir, pre-17 nummeir, pre-17 nummir, pre-17 nummyr, pre-17 nvmer, pre-17 nwmer, pre-17 nwmyr, pre-17 18 numer, pre-17 18– nummer.

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Frequency (in current use):  Show frequency band information
Origin: A borrowing from French. Etymons: French nombre, numbre.
Etymology: < Anglo-Norman nombre, noumbre, numbre, nounbre, nunbre, numere and Old French, Middle French nombre sum, total (early 12th cent. as numbre), grammatical number (13th cent.), a (large, small) quantity (14th cent.), conformity in verse to a regular measure (1549) < classical Latin numerus   sum, total, numeral, number as indicating a part or position in a series, a (large, small) quantity, a (large or small) group or collection of persons or things, a class or category, number as an abstract concept, the fact of being numerous, numerical calculation, arithmetic, rhythm in words or music, grammatical number, metrical foot, (plural) metrical lines, musical strains, perhaps < a suffixed ablaut variant of the same Indo-European base as ancient Greek νόμος   (see nomos n.). Compare Middle Dutch nomber  , nommer  , nommere   (Dutch nummer  , (archaic) nommer  ), German Nummer   (16th cent.), Norwegian nummer  , Swedish nummer  , Danish nummer  . Compare numero n.1, numéro n.2   and also No. n.2
With sense 13b   compare Old French Nombres   (13th cent.), Anglo-Norman and Old French Livre des nombres   (13th cent.), reflecting post-classical Latin Numeri   and Libri numerorum   (both Vulgate) respectively; the book was so called because it relates the census of the twelve tribes of Israel; compare Numery n.  
 
With senses 8, 9, and 10, compare Webster's Dict. Eng. Usage (1989) 673/2 which notes that a number is usually used with a plural verb and the number is usually used with a singular verb. When the word is preceded by an adjective, the verb is more frequently given as plural.
 I. In senses relating to the result of enumeration, to quantity, etc.
 1.

 a. The precise sum or aggregate of a collection of individual things or persons; the quantity or amount.With of or other contextual indication of the group or type of individuals under consideration.

α.
c1300   All Saints (Laud) 3 in C. Horstmann Early S.-Eng. Legendary (1887) 418 (MED)   For þe grete noumbre þat of alle halewe is..euerech ne mai nouȝt at is feste ane day habbe.
c1325  (c1300)    Chron. Robert of Gloucester (Calig.) 1397   As wel..Vor loue of þe panes as to wite þe noumbre of eche manne [v.rr. þe menne].
c1330  (?a1300)    Arthour & Merlin (Auch.) (1973) 8252 (MED)   So mani heþen þousinde, Þat þe noumbre y no can finde.
a1382   Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (Douce 369(1)) (1850) Eccles. i. 15   Withoute ende is the noumbre of foolis.
c1400  (c1378)    W. Langland Piers Plowman (Laud 581) (1869) B. xx. 254   In mesure god made alle manere þynges, And sette it at a certeyne and at a syker noumbre.
a1425   J. Wyclif Sel. Eng. Wks. (1871) II. 139 (MED)   Þis noumbre of fishis..bitokeneþ þe noumbre of seintis.
1486   Bk. St. Albans sig. eij   The moore nombur than ywis, the gretter the beuy is.
a1500  (?a1300)    Arthour & Merlin (Douce) (1890) 679 (MED)   Whanne Cryst hadde made þouȝt [read þourȝ] hys myȝt Heuene ful of angelis bryȝt, The nomber þat þare was þanne Noman for soþ telle can.
a1500  (?a1425)    tr. Secreta Secret. (Lamb.) 60 (MED)   He hauys ordeyned..alle þinges yn euyn weight and certeyn nombre and ordre.
1529   T. More Supplyc. Soulys i. f. xviiv   He sayth yt then shall the nomber of sore and syke beggers decreace.
1554   D. Lindsay Dialog Experience & Courteour 3030 in Wks. (1931) I. 289   The noumber of this gret armie.
1667   J. Milton Paradise Lost iii. 706   What created mind can comprehend Thir number .  View more context for this quotation
1709   G. Berkeley Ess. New Theory of Vision §61. 67   A Thing contains this or that Number of Inches.
1788   T. Jefferson Let. 4 Dec. in Papers (1958) XIV. 331   This is emploiment for near 2000 seamen, and puts nearly that number of British out of employ.
1797   R. Southey Lett. from Spain xxiv. 439   The number of fools is infinite.
a1822   P. B. Shelley tr. J. W. von Goethe Scenes from Faust in Posthumous Poems (1824) 415   Quite a new piece, the last of seven, for 'tis The custom now to represent that number.
1891   E. Peacock Narcissa Brendon I. 114   The number of books was very large.
1913   Sat. Evening Post (Philadelphia) 22 Feb. 3/1   Taft beat Roosevelt in the state by nearly fifty thousand; the Republican candidate for governor beat the Progressive by more than that number.
1950   D. Cusack 3 Austral. Three-act Plays iii. i. 238   I'm sure some people have more than the number of cups they pay for.
1994   Independent 1 Aug. 14/1   Since 1979, the number of women going back to full-time jobs after their babies are born has tripled.
β.
?a1425   Mandeville's Trav. (Egerton) (1889) 18 (MED)   Þare was sum tyme fyue sowdanes, after þe noumer of þe fyue kyngdomes.
a1450   in F. M. Comper Life of Richard Rolle (1928) 318   Þe nowmer of ihesu cristes wowndes ar fyve þowsandefoure hondreth sexty & fyftene, þi whilk in his body war felt & sene.
c1450  (a1425)    Metrical Paraphr. Old Test. (Selden) 11864 (MED)   Þe paynyms com..with nowmmer mo þen men can neuyn.
1458   in G. Neilson & H. Paton Acts Lords of Council Civil Causes (1918) II. p. xiv   The nowmer of [lords of session] that sal sit salbe ix.
a1522   G. Douglas tr. Virgil Æneid (1960) xi. vii. 77   Of thar schippis the nummeir and maner.
1554   D. Lindsay Dialog Experience & Courteour 6229 in Wks. (1931) I. 382   Thow knew the nomer of predestinat, Quhome thow did call.
1599   in D. M. Lyon Hist. Lodge Edinb. (1873) 39   The said Thomas Watt hes his full numer of prenteisses (to wit thrie).
c1626   H. Bisset Rolment Courtis (1920) I. 15   Gif any gettis, the nowmer ar bot few.
1627   in Rep. Parishes Scotl. (1835) 21   The numere of communicantis ane hundrethe or thairby.

c1300—1994(Hide quotations)

 

 b. In plural in same sense. Cf. sense 12c.

1591   W. Garrard & R. Hitchcock Arte of Warre 224   So that helping your memorie with certain Tablei or Tariffas made of purpose to know the numbers of the souldiers that are to enter into ranke.
1600   W. Shakespeare Henry IV, Pt. 2 iv. i. 4   Send discouerers forth, To know the numbers of our enemies.  View more context for this quotation
1613   in J. R. N. Macphail Highland Papers (1920) III. 131   Wherby the noumbers of men of warre..is particularlie sett downe.
a1719   J. Addison Wks. (1888) I. 493   There is but one gate for strangers to enter at, that it may be known what numbers of them are in the town.
1815   M. Elphinstone Acct. Kingdom Caubul iii. iv. 398   Their numbers are not less than thirty thousand families.
1874   A. Trollope Phineas Redux I. xvi. 129   The men may beat the women in numbers by ten to one.
1986   Bird Watching May 54/2   Greylag numbers were very low during March but pinkfeet more than made up for this with a count of 15,000 plus.
1996   Church Times 30 Aug. 3/3   Numbers were low this year, and this was never more apparent than at the mainstage gigs.

1591—1996(Hide quotations)

 
 2.

 a. Something which graphically or symbolically represents a numerical quantity, as a word, figure, or group of these; a numeral; (also) a ticket or label bearing such signs.to cast number : to perform arithmetical operations (obsolete).

c1300   St. Edmund Rich (Harl.) 226 in C. D'Evelyn & A. J. Mill S. Eng. Legendary (1956) 500 (MED)   He..arsmetrike radde in cours in Oxenford wel faste & his figurs drouȝ aldai & his numbre caste.
c1300   St. Edmund Rich (Harl.) 228 in C. D'Evelyn & A. J. Mill S. Eng. Legendary (1956) 500 (MED)   Arsmetrike is a lore þat of figurs al is, & of drauȝtes as me draweþ in poudre, & in numbre iwis.
c1392   Equatorie of Planetis 18 (MED)   Mak yit a narwere cercle..in which shal ben writen the nombres of degres.
a1450  (▸1391)    G. Chaucer Treat. Astrolabe i. §7. 7   Over the whiche degrees there ben noumbres of augrym that dividen thilke same degres fro 5 to 5.
1564–5   in J. Beveridge & G. Donaldson Reg. Secreti Sigilli Regum Scotorum (1957) V. i. 545/2   The samyn be at lenth writtin and insert thairin and nocht be nummer and figuris.
1728   E. Chambers Cycl. at Fraction   Vulgar Fractions, called also Simple Fractions, are always express'd by two Numbers, the one wrote over the other, with a Line between them.
1788   S. Low Politician Out-witted v. iv. 63   The number on the door; why, that settles the matter at once,—there can't be two numbers alike, in the same street.
1836   C. Dickens Pickwick Papers (1837) ii. 5   A strange specimen of the human race..with a brass label and number round his neck.
1854   Orr's Circle Sci.: Math. Sci. 5   Figures thus have..a value depending upon the places they occupy in a number.
1864   J. Donaldson Crit. Hist. Christian Lit. & Doctr. I. 214   The appeal to the Greek letters as numbers, is conclusive proof of the writer's habitual use of the Greek Scriptures.
1912   D. Lowrie My Life in Prison iii. 30   I glanced at the number on the cell door. It was..34.
1948   Proc. Symp. Large-scale Digital Calculating Machinery 1947 47   The numbers representing the data are withdrawn from the tape to the table register.
1994   T. Clancy Debt of Honor Prol. 17   He looked at the number on the LCD display.

c1300—1994(Hide quotations)

 

 b. An abstract entity representing a quantity, used to express how many things are being referred to, or how much there is of some thing or property; an arithmetical value corresponding to a particular quantity of something. Also: an analogous entity or value used in mathematical operations without reference to actual things.In quot. 1532: a ratio, a proportion. See also sense 14b.atomic, Avogadro's, complex, quantum, whole number, etc.: see the first element.

c1390  (?c1350)    St. Augustine 88 in C. Horstmann Sammlung Altengl. Legenden (1878) 63   Of þe mesures of figures and musek And of alle þe noumbres ek..He vndersted.
a1398   J. Trevisa tr. Bartholomaeus Anglicus De Proprietatibus Rerum (BL Add.) f. 326v   Þe secounde odde noumbre [L. numerus impar], þat is, þe nombre of fyue.
a1400  (a1325)    Cursor Mundi (Vesp.) 419   Þat suld be of a numbre hale, and mani thusand to haue in tale.
a1450   York Plays (1885) 465 (MED)   Parfite noumbre it is none Off elleuen.
a1500   in W. A. Pantin Eng. Black Monks (1931) I. 17 (MED)   There ys a Numbyr that ys called a Grose, and itt cont[aineth] xij doss[en].
1532  (c1385)    Usk's Test. Loue in Wks. G. Chaucer i. f. cccxxxiiii   It is a fayre lykenesse, a pees or one grayne of wheate, to a thousande shippes ful of corne charged. What nombre is betwene the one and thother.
1570   H. Billingsley tr. Euclid Elements Geom. vii. f. 186   When two numbers multiplying them selues..produce an other: the number produced is called a plaine or superficiall number.
1602   W. Shakespeare Merry Wives of Windsor v. i. 2   They say there is good luck in old numbers.
1608   D. Tuvill Ess. Politicke, & Morall f. 46   Themselues alone will be thought the Numbers, that giue a substantiall existence to the being of them all.
1667   J. Milton Paradise Lost viii. 114   Distance inexpressible By Numbers that have name.  View more context for this quotation
1753   Chambers's Cycl. Suppl. App. (at cited word)   The figurate Numbers of any order may be found without computing those of the preceding orders.
1820   P. B. Shelley Œdipus Tyrannus i. 14   If you were to dream Of a particular number in the Lottery, You would not buy the ticket?
1859   B. Smith Arith. & Algebra (ed. 6) 35   A Mixed Number is composed of a whole number and a fraction.
1935   Proc. Amer. Soc. Testing Materials 35 342   The cetane number..is determined and expressed..as the percentage of cetane in a blend of cetane and alphamethylnaphthalene.
1981   P. Davies Edge of Infinity (1983) ii. 31   It has been known since the time of Pythagoras that there exist numbers that cannot be expressed as either a whole number or as a fraction.
1990   Glasgow Math. Jrnl. 32 285   We shall therefore call an even number a Goldbach number if it can be written as the sum of two primes in at least one way.

c1390—1990(Hide quotations)

 

 c.  (a) In plural. Arithmetic; †an arithmetic calculation (obsolete);  (b) in singular (elementary) arithmetic, esp. as taught as a school subject (originally Australian and New Zealand, now also British).The modern use of the singular, referring esp. to primary school arithmetic, may have been influenced by the title of the textbook referred to in quot. 1922.

a1398   J. Trevisa tr. Bartholomaeus Anglicus De Proprietatibus Rerum (BL Add.) f. 328a/a   Among þe science mathematicus, wise men schal most take heede of þe science of nombres.
c1400  (c1378)    W. Langland Piers Plowman (Laud 581) (1869) B. xix. 234 (MED)   He tauȝte..some to dyuyne and diuide, noumbres to kenne.
a1450  (▸1391)    G. Chaucer Treat. Astrolabe Prol. 3   I aperceyve wel by certeyne evydences thyn abilite to lerne sciences touching nombres and proporciouns.
c1475   Court of Sapience (Trin. Cambr.) (1927) 1974 (MED)   Apuleyus and Boece..were the furst in latyne and in grew, That in to the craft on nombre euer drew.
1693   S. Pepys Let. to Newton 22 Nov.   The late project..has almost extinguished..at all places of public conversation in this town, especially among men of numbers, every other talk.
1711   R. Steele Spectator No. 174. ⁋5   None of all these Things could be done by him without the Exercise of his Skill in Numbers.
1791   J. Boswell Life Johnson anno 1776 II. 21   [Johnson:] We may instance the science of numbers, which all minds are equally capable of attaining.
1848   E. C. Gaskell Mary Barton I. viii. 128   I've gotten no head for numbers.
1872   H. W. Longfellow Poet. Wks. IV. 202   Thus he grew up,..Perfect in Grammar, and in Rhetoric nice; Science of Numbers, Geometric art, And lore of Stars, and Music knew by heart.
1922   N.Z. Educ. Gaz. 1 Dec. 137/1   Miss Caldwell has published a book entitled ‘The Simplicity of Number’, a copy of which..can..be obtained from her by teachers.
1963   B. Pearson Coal Flat iv. 63   You'd best make sure of his reading and his number and see if he's good enough for this class.
1996   Independent 2 May ii. 16/4   To teach basic language and number.
1997   R. Coles Moral Intelligence of Children i. iv. 35   Elaine had already told her teacher that she hoped one day to be a stockbroker, like her grandfather: ‘He is a whiz at numbers’—a remark she'd heard her grandmother make all the time.

a1398—1997(Hide quotations)

 

d. line of numbers = Gunter's line at Gunter n. 1a. Obsolete.

1656   J. Brown Descr. Carpenters-rule (title)    The description and use of the carpenters-rule: together with the use of the line of numbers (inscribed thereon) in arithmatick and geometry. And the application thereof to the measuring of all superficies and solids.
1667   W. Leybourn (title)    The line of proportion or numbers, commonly called Gunters Line, made easie. By the which may be measured all manner of superficies and solids.
1706   Phillips's New World of Words (new ed.)    Gunter's Line, the common Line of Numbers first invented by Mr. Edmund Gunter, and so well known that it needs no Description.
1728   E. Chambers Cycl. at Gunter's Line   Call'd also Line of Lines, and Line of Numbers.
1828   Moore's Pract. Navigator (ed. 20) 91   The diff. of long. 419 on the line of numbers.
1890   Dict. National Biogr. XXXIII. 350   Gunter's admirable rule of proportion, now called the line of numbers (‘Gunter's Line’ and ‘Gunter's Proportion’).

1656—1890(Hide quotations)

 

 e. In plural. U.S. slang. An illegal form of gambling in which bets are taken on the occurrence of numbers in a lottery or in the financial columns of a newspaper. Esp. in to play the numbers . Cf. policy n.2 1c.

[1868   J. D. McCabe Secrets Great City 514   A man might play three numbers every day for a year, and not have the satisfaction of seeing all three come out at one time on the drawing.]
1897   G. Ade Pink Marsh 170   She tell Belle 'at she heah I like gin an' roll'e bones an' play numbehs.
1926   C. Van Vechten Nigger Heaven 286   Numbers, a gambling game highly popular in contemporary Harlem. The winning numbers each day are derived from the New York Clearing House bank exchanges and balances..published in the newspapers.
1965   ‘Malcolm X’ Autobiogr. 52   Betting my dollar a day on the numbers.
1975   New Yorker 29 Sept. 54/3   She had met Delgado while she was selling numbers on the streets of the lower East Side.
1992   D. Pinckney High Cotton vi. 145   His part-time helper..lost vast sums..playing the numbers.

1897—1992(Hide quotations)

 

 f. In plural. colloquial. Statistics; (U.S. Sport, esp. Baseball) statistics detailing a player's performance in various aspects of his or her sport.

1964   N.Y. Times 11 Apr. 20   Such numbers show graphically how evenly playing time has been distributed.
1973   Black Panther 7 Apr. (Suppl.) c/2   There is an old saying that is particularly appropriate: ‘Numbers don't lie’.
1986   R. L. Chapman New Dict. Amer. Slang 298/1   He had 40 homers and a 325 average, the best numbers on the team.
1991   Athlon's Eastern Football Ann. 60/2   Nance let Klingler's numbers speak for themselves,..pointing out that Klingler's statistics were better than any other Heisman-winning quarterback.
1994   City Paper (Philadelphia) 18 Mar. 8/5   According to the numbers, about 60,000 Philadelphians currently receiving welfare payments will have their payments reduced to the 70-cents-a-day level.

1964—1994(Hide quotations)

 
 3.

 a. An arithmetical value assigned to something or someone, esp. to indicate position in a series, or for purposes of reference, identification, etc. the number of the beast : the number 666, numerologically representing the (unidentified) name of the Antichrist of the book of Revelation; also used allusively.

c1350   Apocalypse St. John: A Version (Harl. 874) (1961) 105 (MED)   His noumbre it is sex hundreþ & sexty & sex.
c1384   Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (Royal) Apoc. xiii. 18   Heere is wisdom; he that hath vndirstonding, acounte the noumbre of the beest; sotheli the noumbre of man is, and his noumbre is sixe hundrid sixty and sixe.
1621   R. Montagu Diatribæ Hist. Tithes 293   Those men who propound..their priuate, probable and problematical opinions,..of the Number of the Beast.
1634   in B. Cusack Everyday Eng. 1500–1700 (1998) 139   He sawe a nomber of lx persons gathered togeither.
1697   H. Wanley in Bodleian Q. Rec. (1915) Jan. 107   That a little strip of Parchment be pasted to each Tract, with its number written upon it.
1830   F. Marryat King's Own II. xix. 293   A strange sail, who had not..shewn her number.
1836   C. Dickens Pickwick Papers (1837) ii. 6   Would any body believe as an informer 'ud go about in a man's cab, not only takin' down his number, but ev'ry word he says into the bargain.
1898   G. B. Shaw Philanderer in Plays Unpleasant iii. 135   Julia..What is Dr Paramore's number in Savile Row? Charteris. Seventy-nine.
1908   E. F. Benson Blotting Bk. i. 16   I saw one policeman trying to take my number.
1987   B. Moore Colour of Blood xv. 97   You will say that you came for the VD clinic and you will be given a number.
1992   I. Banks Crow Road xii. 286   ‘Did you know... In the Dewey Decimal System, glass-making comes under the code six six six?’ ‘Woo,’ Rory whistled. ‘Number of the beast! Spooky, eh?’

c1350—1992(Hide quotations)

 

 b. A number assigned to a particular telephone (or group of telephones) and used in making connections to it; = telephone number n. at telephone n. Compounds 3.

1879   Times 8 Sept. 12/1   The person at No. 2 calls the attention of the attendant at the exchange by means of an electric bell. At the same moment a shutter on the switchboard falls and discloses the number of the applicant.
1884   List of Subscribers (London & Globe Telephone Co.) 4   Take telephones from hooks and speak at once, giving number of subscriber wanted.
1911   W. J. Locke Glory of Clementina Wing 324   She..took up the telephone and gave a number.
1965   Mrs. L. B. Johnson White House Diary 3 June (1970) 283   I tried to reach him, or rather his wife, to no avail. The number didn't answer.
1973   ‘R. Lewis’ Blood Money iv. 47   ‘Could it be the number of the hire-car he used?’..‘It's a Leeds number.’
1991   R. Rendell Kissing Gunner's Daughter (1992) xxii. 278   Only the answering machine replied when he dialled her number.

1879—1991(Hide quotations)

 
1923   G. G. Denny Fabrics i. 31   Yarn count—a number given to yarn indicating its fineness, based upon number of yards per pound, more correctly called ‘yarn number’.
1927   M. H. Avram Rayon Industry 516   There are many systems by which the ‘number’, ‘size’, or ‘count’ of yarns is expressed.
1928   V. Hottenroth Artific. Silk ix. 160   Before the silk is ready for sale or for treatment in the dye works, it must be sorted according to quality and number (that is, thickness of thread).
1931   D. L. Pellatt Viscose Rayon Production xi. 97   For 150-denier yarn..the number has risen from 18 to 21, 24, 27.
1969   W. von Bergen et al. Wool Handbk. (ed. 3) II. ii. xvi. 1133   Yarn number is defined as the linear density of a textile strand.

1923—1969(Hide quotations)

 
 4.

 a. A single part or issue of a magazine or periodical, etc.; each of the separate parts of any book or other publication issued in serial form. in numbers: in a series of separate parts published at intervals.

1728   Stamford Mercury 28 Mar. 104/2   The whole Work will make about ten Numbers, containing fifteen Sheets each Number, beautifully printed in 4+₀, Price 3s. 10. to be continued Monthly.
1742   H. Fielding Joseph Andrews I. ii. i. 135   He was the first Inventor of the Art which so long lay dormant, of publishing by Numbers, an Art now brought to such Perfection, that even Dictionaries are divided and exhibited piece-meal to the Public.  View more context for this quotation
1795   Gentleman's Mag. 65 540/1   A good-natured friend, who shewed me the last number of the Critical Review.
1851   H. Mayhew London Labour I. 290/1   He used to buy up all the old back numbers of the cheap periodicals.
1853   E. C. Gaskell Cranford i   I consider it vulgar, and below the dignity of literature, to publish in numbers.
1884   Athenæum Dec. 773   In our number for December 27th we shall give a series of articles on the Continental Literature of the Year.
1938   Open Road for Boys July 8/1   You'll recall that in the June number, he explained to us the fundamental tennis strokes.
1969   I. Berlin Four Ess. Liberty Introd. p. ix   The first of the four essays in this book appeared in the mid-century number of the New York periodical Foreign Affairs.
1987   C. Tomalin Katharine Mansfield vii. 84   He and Jackson issued their first number of a magazine they had persuaded Bernard Shaw to help them acquire.

1728—1987(Hide quotations)

 

b. Each of a collection of songs or poems. Obsolete.

1842   Southern Literary Messenger Feb. 167   We are under no small obligation to Longfellow for embodying so many cheering views of existence in such musical numbers.
1878   R. L. Stevenson Inland Voy. 119   There was a number in the hawker's collection called Conscrits Français, which may rank among the most dissuasive war-lyrics on record.
1894   Westm. Gaz. 21 Feb. 3/1   There are only 28 numbers in the little book, but none of them is quite insignificant, while many contain really memorable lines and stanzas.

1842—1894(Hide quotations)

 

c. A person designated by a certain number. Obsolete. rare.

1859   F. A. Griffiths Artillerist's Man. (1862) 196   The first seven numbers run up.
c1860   H. Stuart Novices or Young Seaman's Catech. (rev. ed.) 14   Order any two numbers to draw it out.

1859—c1860(Hide quotations)

 

d. colloquial. A bedroom in a hotel. Obsolete. rare.

1902   Chambers's Jrnl. Nov. 717/1   The ordinary sojourner, at a strange hotel will..ask to be accommodated with a ‘bed’ that night; the bagman expresses his desire for a ‘number’.

1902—1902(Hide quotations)

 
 5.

 a. An item in a programme of (musical) entertainment; (sometimes) spec. each more or less distinct section of an opera, oratorio, etc. Also (more generally): any song or tune.

1865   tr. L. Spohr Autobiogr. I. 72   I now expected that..all those ‘Numbers’ in which Titus has to sing, would be omitted.
1874   Catholic World Sept. 787   The director of the music should..sacrifice even the most admirable musical numbers to the exigencies of the ceremonial.
1891   Guardian 23 Sept. 1531   The names of the singers of all the solo numbers.
1900   E. E. Peake Darlingtons i. 2   After a rattling number by the band, a brief address by the Mayor, and another rattling number by the band, a neatly dressed, handsome man..advanced to the front of the platform.
1908   L. M. Montgomery Anne of Green Gables xix. 214   Only one number on the programme failed to interest her.
1920   P. G. Wodehouse Little Warrior xi. 199   He's put over any amount of shows which would have flopped like dogs without him to stage the numbers.
1948   Penguin Music Mag. Feb. 25   The B.B.C. could start..by putting some kind of check on the manner and matter of their inane songs—‘numbers’ I think they call them.
1984   A. Copland & V. Perlis Copland: 1900–42 x. 261   The music is divided into ten ‘numbers’, with the spoken scenes taking away the necessity for recitative.
2001   Vanity Fair (N.Y.) May 218/2   Some of the first songs Dylan wrote himself—a handful of Guthrie-style ‘talking blues’ numbers and the poignant ballad ‘Song to Woody’.

1865—2001(Hide quotations)

 

 b. Chiefly with modifying word: (a part of) a theatrical or other performance; a routine, a turn.

1908   K. McGaffey Sorrows of Show Girl ii. 30   I've got to roll my hoop and do a shopping number.
1939   J. B. Priestley Johnson over Jordan 67   And now, friends, a new novelty act, the first time here, and I know it will be a socko number.
1958   B. Nichols Sweet & Twenties 141   Those most precious of all items to the revue writer, the ‘front-cloth numbers’, which can be played without props or scenery.
1977   New Yorker 17 Oct. 40   I did a bag-lady number on one of the platforms here in the bus station last year, and I almost got arrested. They thought I was the real thing.

1908—1977(Hide quotations)

 
 6. colloquial. A person or thing.

 a. An article of clothing.

1894   E. Œ. Somerville & ‘M. Ross’ Real Charlotte I. iii. 22   The shop windows..had progressed..to straw hats, tennis shoes, and coloured Summer Numbers.
1935   Ladies' Home Jrnl. Apr. 19/3   Deedee had swathed herself in an afternoon number and was happily emptying the last of my..perfume down her front.
1953   M. Steen Anna Fitzalan viii. 211   Petula Wimbleby's solution turned out to be an exquisite but throat-high ‘little number’ redeemed by lumps of jade.
1992   More 28 Oct. 51/1   He'd actually buy her hot-to-trot underwear and little red Lycra numbers with plunging necklines.

1894—1992(Hide quotations)

 

 b. A person, esp. a girl or young woman. Frequently with modifying word. Also: spec. a sexual partner.

1919   Dial. Notes 5 70   Hot one, hot number, used as a term of disgust. ‘You're a hot one I must say.’ New Mexico.
1936   L. C. Douglas White Banners xvi. 343   She's an odd number... I rather fancy she wears a hair shirt herself.
1955   W. Gaddis Recognitions ii. vii. 627   Have you seen a little blond number named Adeline?
1968   J. Sangster Touchfeather ii. 17   I make do with three [men]..my home number is just a nice guy who sells motor cars.
1973   Amer. Speech 1970 55 58   Number, casual pick-up from a bar or the street.
1994   N.Y. Rev. Bks. 17 Feb. 18/2   They are bad numbers who brutally slaughtered a young woman and a young man in a robbery.

1919—1994(Hide quotations)

 

 c. A job, assignment, or activity. Frequently in cushy number.

1928   G. Campbell My Myst. Ships xii. 226   It may appear that the men in the boats had a fairly ‘quiet’ number, after they had merely run the risk of being torpedoed.
1959   N.Z. Listener 24 July 5/1   A navigator's yeoman who had the cushy number of rubbing out old minefields and putting in new ones.
1975   J. Wainwright Square Dance 187   He silently congratulated himself. It was a soft number, sitting here.
2000   Independent 13 Mar. 11/1   The Caribbean posting is not a cushy number.

1928—2000(Hide quotations)

 

 d. slang (originally and chiefly U.S.). A marijuana cigarette; an amount of marijuana obtained from a dealer.

1963   in E. L. Abel Marihuana Dict. (at cited word)   You smoke this number while I go and call John.
1965   W. King in Liberator Aug. 22   ‘Mac's copping me a number from hell for a nickel!’.. ‘Sweet Mac was supposed to cop me a bag three nights back... I'm waiting here tonight to get my bag of reefer.’
1981   R. Carver Cathedral in C. M. Curtis Amer. Stories from Atlantic (1990) 144   I passed her the number. She took it and inhaled and then passed it back to me.
1995   Independent 27 Apr. 22/7   After a few tokes of Aunt Mary, maths would be a bust with kids who think a number is something you roll.

1963—1995(Hide quotations)

 

 7. colloquial. Used generally (and frequently humorously) to refer to any person or thing (identified more precisely by context). Frequently in little number.

1903   A. H. Lewis Boss 205   That's a nice number to hand a man!
1938   Amer. Home June 26/1   There is the little number of wood or metal and canvas known as a ‘director's chair’.
1959   F. Astaire Steps in Time 275   I got my fill a few days later, however, when a lone putt-putt German raided our orchard home and dropped a few little numbers just a hundred yards away.
1987   Super Bike June 67/3   A successful neo-classic touch is the use of wire wheels rather than the road bike's cast numbers, which probably also saves some useful weight.
1999   Wired Feb. 53/2   This little number has the largest optical zoom available.

1903—1999(Hide quotations)

 
 II. Senses relating to the aggregate of things enumerated or collected together.
 8.
 

a. The full count of a collection or company of persons. Also in plural. Obsolete.

c1350   Apocalypse St. John: A Version (Harl. 874) (1961) 49 (MED)   Þai shulden resten hem..vntil þe noumbre be fulfild of her breþeren.
a1393   J. Gower Confessio Amantis (Fairf.) viii. 32 (MED)   The nombre of Angles which was lore..He thoghte to restore.
a1400  (a1325)    Cursor Mundi (Vesp.) 9416   Þat þis oxspring war o þat tale Þat moght fulfill þe numbre hale..o þam þat fell.
a1425   J. Wyclif Sel. Eng. Wks. (1869) I. 6   Þe noumbre of men þat God haþ ordeyned to blisse mut nedis be fillid.
1483   in Cal. Anc. Rec. Dublin (1889) I. 364   Suche persones as they thynkith lyable to fullfill the nombre of the xlviii. demi jurees.
c1520   M. Nisbet New Test. in Scots (1905) III. Prol. to Acts 2   The novmer of the apostilis war fulfillit.
1569–70   in J. Stuart Extracts Council Reg. Aberdeen (1844) I. 367   Ane buik contening the haill numer of personis of thair delatioun.
1600   W. Shakespeare Henry IV, Pt. 2 iii. ii. 185   Here is two more cald then your number, you must haue but foure here sir.  View more context for this quotation
1667   J. Milton Paradise Lost iii. 332   Hell, her numbers full, Thenceforth shall be for ever shut.  View more context for this quotation
1859   Ld. Tennyson Guinevere in Idylls of King 251   How sad it were for Arthur..To..miss the wonted number of my knights.

c1350—1859(Hide quotations)

 

 b. A particular body or company of persons or things. Now only in constructions denoting inclusion, as of (also in, etc.) the number (of) .

c1350   Psalter (BL Add. 17376) in K. D. Bülbring Earliest Compl. Eng. Prose Psalter (1891) 192 (MED)   Þe praiseable numbre of prophetes herieþ þe.
c1390   G. Chaucer Melibeus 2710   I am nat of the nombre of right parfite men.
a1400  (a1325)    Cursor Mundi (Vesp.) 23875 (MED)   He has us in his numbur tald, Als his scepe of his aun fald.
a1425   Rule St. Benet (Lansd.) (1902) 1 (MED)   He..hase vochyd safe to cownte vs in þe nummer of hys sons.
1485   W. Caxton in Malory's Morte Darthur Pref. sig. ij   Admytted..in to the nombre of the ix beste & worthy, of whome was fyrst the noble Arthur.
a1500   tr. A. Chartier Quadrilogue (Rawl.) (1974) 228 (MED)   He was betin with roddis and aftir that put to the fotemen as oon of their numbur.
a1538   A. Abell Roit or Quheill of Tyme f. 51, in Dict. Older Sc. Tongue at Noumer   Sum puttis him nocht in nowmir of papis.
?a1562   G. Cavendish Life Wolsey (1959) 51   The kyng..hauyng abought his person..beside the wonderfull nomber of nobyll men & gentilmen iijre great Gardes.
1611   Bible (King James) 2 Cor. x. 12   For we dare not make our selues of the number .  View more context for this quotation
c1626   H. Bisset Rolment Courtis (1920) I. 201   The lordis appovntis uthir foure of there numer to succeid..quhill the course cum about the [haill] numer.
1667   J. Milton Paradise Lost v. 843   But more illustrious made, since he the Head One of our number thus reduc't becomes.  View more context for this quotation
1754   Earl of Chatham Lett. to Nephew (1804) iv. 25   Is gratitude in the number of a man's virtues?
1785   T. Jefferson Let. 1 Sept. in Papers (1953) VIII. 460   The Emperior continues to give proofs of his desire..of receiving us into the number of his tributaries.
1852   W. E. Gladstone Exam. Reply Neapolitan Govt. 25   They would..rank as enemies of order, and be added to the number of those who are the unfortunate subjects of the return.
1874   A. Trollope Phineas Redux II. xxviii. 225   They would have a few friends with them, and Madame Goesler would be one of the number.
1917   E. Wharton Summer xv. 234   She had seen too many village love-stories end in that way. Poor Rose Coles's miserable marriage was of the number.
1961   K. Tynan Curtains i. 137   The effect on the prison population of the knowledge that one of their number is about to be ritually strangled.
1986   J. Nagenda Seasons of T. Tebo ii. iv. 68   Thomas didn't know whether or not Mike was of their number back in Dondo.

c1350—1986(Hide quotations)

 

c. The class or category of something. Obsolete.

?a1425  (c1380)    G. Chaucer tr. Boethius De Consol. Philos. iv. pr. ii. 275   Nys nat yvel of the nombre of thinges that oughten ben desired.
c1550   Complaynt Scotl. (1979) vi. 48   viij sortis of vyndis of the quhilk numir ther is iiij callit vyndis cardinal.
1577   B. Googe tr. C. Heresbach Foure Bks. Husbandry i. f. 35   Columella countes it rather in the number of Fodder for cattell, then of Pulse for man.
1638   R. Baker tr. J. L. G. de Balzac New Epist. III. 103   I account not Amazons in the number of women, but of Monsters and Prodigies.
1690   W. Temple Ess. Anc. & Mod. Learning in Wks. (1720) I. 298   There are three, which I do not conceive well, how they can be brought into the Number of Sciences; which are, Chymistry, Philology, and Divinity.
1757   A. Cooper Compl. Distiller iii. lxiv. 261   Universally allowed to be a Mineral Production, of the Number of Bitumens.

?a1425—1757(Hide quotations)

 

d. Those forming a specified class; the multitude, the public. Obsolete.

1542   Bp. S. Gardiner Let. c1 July (1933) 356   I speake for the numbre, which they them selves will take for no reproche.
1578   J. Banister Hist. Man vii. f. 91v   Casula..the barbarous number, by the addition of one letter pronounce it Capsula.
?1611   G. Chapman tr. Homer Iliads ix. 118   Who liuing thus apart Proues vs but number: for his want, makes all our weaknesse seene.
a1616   W. Shakespeare Coriolanus (1623) iii. i. 76   By mingling them with vs, the honor'd Number .  View more context for this quotation
1738   A. Pope One Thousand Seven Hundred & Thirty Eight Dialogue II 9   The Number may be hang'd, but not be crown'd.

1542—1738(Hide quotations)

 
 9. With preceding adjective.

 a. A (large, small, etc.) collection or aggregate of persons or things. Also with preceding adverb and a, as quite a number, etc.

a1375  (c1350)    William of Palerne (1867) 2300   A brem numbre of bestes.
c1450  (?a1400)    Wars Alexander (Ashm.) 955 (MED)   He..metes him in þe myd-fild with a mekill nounbre.
a1500   Partenay (Trin. Cambr.) 37 (MED)   Ther was A Erle..Which of children had A huge noumbre gret.
1533   T. More Answere Poysened Bk. Pref. sig. Aa.vi   There ys no small nomber of suche erronyouse englyshe bookes prented.
?a1562   G. Cavendish Life Wolsey (1959) 26   Your..banquette, where was assembled such a number of excellent fair dames.
1638   F. Junius Painting of Ancients 28   Among such a number of rich and artificiall monuments.
1678   J. Phillips tr. J.-B. Tavernier Indian Trav. ii. xxiv. 202 in tr. J.-B. Tavernier Six Voy.   The Java Lords,..drawing their poyson'd Daggers, cry'd a Mocca upon the English, killing a great number of them.
1719   D. Defoe Life Robinson Crusoe 61   There arose an innumerable Number of Fowls of many Sorts.
1743   J. Morris Serm. vii. 191   There is a great number of other passages of scripture, in which they must be understood of children.
1788   J. Madison in Federalist Papers lviii. 164   The difficulty..in engaging in the federal service, a large number of such characters as the people will probably elect.
1844   R. W. Emerson Ess. 2nd Ser. viii. 250   I might see a great number of rich, ignorant, book-read, conventional, proud men.
1897   F. Hall in Nation 64 396/2   A good number of them were, doubtless, brought across the ocean by British immigrants.
1915   W. S. Maugham Of Human Bondage cvii. 561   Their clientele..consisted of..a large number of music-hall artistes.
1986   J. Huxley Leaves of Tulip Tree i. 17   A very small number of centimes were allotted to us each week as pocket money.

a1375—1986(Hide quotations)

 

 b. As a mass noun. Now only following in (formerly also †to).

c1400  (?c1380)    Cleanness (1920) 1283   Þe golde of þe gazafylace to swyþe gret noumbre.
1411   Rolls of Parl. III. 650/1   The same Robert..dyd assemble greet noumbre of men armed and arrayed ageyn the pees.
?a1425   Mandeville's Trav. (Egerton) (1889) 83 (MED)   In bathe þir citez dwellez Cristen men..in grete noumer [Fr. grant fuisoun].
1485   in J. Raine Vol. Eng. Misc. N. Counties Eng. (1890) 43   Wt othre in grete nombre assembled ther.
a1533   Ld. Berners tr. A. de Guevara Golden Bk. M. Aurelius (1546) sig. B.ij   There is greatte nombre of parcialities.
1554   D. Lindsay Dialog Experience & Courteour 5684 in Wks. (1931) I. 367   With small nummer of monkis and freris.
1558   in J. B. Paul Accts. Treasurer Scotl. (1913) X. 375   That thai with thair hors, cartis, sleddis and crelis in sic noumer.
1600   R. Kittowe Loues Load-starre sig. C   His onely sonne, of whom..there should proceed..nations, multiplied in such number, as incomparabilitie shuld equal the innumerable starres.
a1616   W. Shakespeare Twelfth Night (1623) iii. iii. 29   Belike you slew great number of his people.  View more context for this quotation
1625   K. Long tr. J. Barclay Argenis ii. i. sig. Q   The people, called by a Cryer, came in great number thronging to the Iudgement seate.
1719   J. Barker Exilius (ed. 2) II. ii. i. 179   Thus was I, poor Maid, expos'd to..lewd Out-laws, who inhabit those Woods in great Number.
a1822   P. B. Shelley Masque of Anarchy (1832) xxxviii. 20   Rise, like lions after slumber, In unvanquishable number.
1869   J. S. Mill Subject. Women iii   Women cannot be expected to devote themselves to the emancipation of women, until men in considerable number are prepared to join with them.
1906   J. H. Macdonald tr. L. Bianchi Textbk. Psychiatry iii. xiii. 680   In the typical form [of mania]..neologisms and symbols are found in great number.
1993   Harper's Mag. Feb. 36/1   I went to the Napoleon Club in Boston's Beacon Hill and stared..at peacock men, gays I'd never seen in such number.

c1400—1993(Hide quotations)

 
 

 c. With complementary of-phrase unexpressed.

a1470   T. Malory Morte Darthur (Winch. Coll. 13) (1990) III. 1216   The noble knyghtes of the cite cam a greate numbir.
1535   Bible (Coverdale) Gen. xxxiv. E   I am but a small nombre: Yf they gather them selues now together against me, they shal slaye me.
1560   J. Daus tr. J. Sleidane Commentaries f. cxxx   Therfore were bookes brought thether in a wonderfull numbre.
1589   T. Cooper Admon. People of Eng. 120   Which dealing..cannot be without great offence of an infinite nomber.
1611   Bible (King James) Acts xi. 21   A great number beleeued, and turned vnto the Lord.  View more context for this quotation
1693   in Rothesay Town Council Rec. (1935) II. 485   A sert nwmber to..revise the cesse book impost.
1724   J. Henley et al. tr. Pliny the Younger Epist. & Panegyrick I. iv. vii. 164   A great Number think him an Orator.
1833   C. F. Crusé tr. Eusebius Eccl. Hist. (ed. 2) iv. iii. 130   This work is also preserved by a great number.
1861   Amer. Agriculturist July 198/3   Only a small number will produce perfect flowers.
1895   Pall Mall Mag. Nov. 459   A considerable number are employed in..workshops.
1931   A. U. Dilley Oriental Rugs & Carpets iv. 124   Except for a small number woven in medallion pattern upon a plain field, the Feraghans were produced in all-over design.
1961   Lancet 2 Sept. 506/2   All strains of Staph. aureus were tested for sensitivity..and a small number were phage-typed.
1992   Disability Now May 2/3   A considerable number could live independently in their own accommodation.

a1470—1992(Hide quotations)

 
 10.

 a. A certain, esp. a large or considerable, collection or aggregate of persons or things, not precisely reckoned or counted.

c1384   Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (Douce 369(2)) (1850) Deeds v. 36   A noumbre of men consentide, aboute foure hundrid.
c1400  (?a1387)    W. Langland Piers Plowman (Huntington HM 137) (1873) C. iv. 395 (MED)   He þat mede may lacche makeþ litel tale, Nyme he a numbre of nobles oþer of shullenges.
a1425   J. Wyclif Sel. Eng. Wks. (1871) II. 309   In þe Chirche above in heven is a noumbre of greete seintis.
1535   Bible (Coverdale) Acts v. E   There cleued vnto him a nombre of men, aboute a foure hundreth.
c1540  (?a1400)    Gest Historiale Destr. Troy 1147   Nestor, with a nombur of noble men all.
1580   W. Fulke Discov. Dangerous Rock in Retentiue 164   A number more of such principall heades of Christian learning.
1626   F. Bacon Sylua Syluarum §567   Water-Lilly..hath a Root in the Ground; And so have a Number of other Herbs that grow in Ponds.
c1650   J. Spalding Memorialls Trubles Scotl. & Eng. (1850) I. 46   Ane company of Hielanderis..liftit..ane number of goodis.
1799   R. Southey Lett. from Spain (ed. 2) i. 8   A number of little forts are erected about the adjoining coast.
1807   G. Chalmers Caledonia I. ii. vi. 282   The dates of both agree..in a number of their notices.
1860   S. Wilberforce Speeches on Missions (1874) 338   He..kept himself by keeping a number of bees.
1882   R. L. Stevenson New Arabian Nights I. 204   Though I have encountered a number of rogues in different quarters of the world, I never met with one so unblushing as yourself.
1923   R. Macaulay Told by Idiot iv. vi. 270   He was quite intelligent about a number of things.
1960   C. Day Lewis Buried Day ii. 39   I..sang a number of his songs, some with piano, the rest to the harp accompaniment of Sidonie Goossens.
1989   Japan Times 21 May 4/4   A number of steps were agreed to maintain the peace in the territory.

c1384—1989(Hide quotations)

 
 

 b. With complementary of-phrase unexpressed. Cf. sense 9c.In early use frequently with the sense ‘many people’ (without any contextual indication).

1566   Cott. Libr. Cal. B 10 f. 372   In this mean time there rose a nombre in the Court.
1593   R. Hooker Of Lawes Eccl. Politie i. i. 48   Much..may seeme to a number perhaps tedious, perhaps obscure.
1637   R. Baillie Lett. & Jrnls. (1841) I. 6   A number lope to their friends for recommendations to court.
1770   Trial W. Wemms 88   Was that expression, we will do for the soldiers, uttered by a number or by a few?
1788   A. Hamilton in Federalist Papers xv. 93   Regard to reputation has a less active influence, when the infamy of a bad action is to be divided among a number, than when it is to fall singly upon one.
1839   C. Darwin in R. Fitzroy & C. Darwin Narr. Surv. Voy. H.M.S. Adventure & Beagle III. iii. 67   If a hunting party kills an animal, a number [of carrion-feeders] soon collect and patiently await,..on all sides.
1840   J. H. Newman Church of Fathers x. 174   The testimony of a number is more cogent than the testimony of two or three.
1910   Encycl. Brit. I. 917/1   A bomb was thrown, several policemen being killed and a number wounded.
1967   Brit. Jrnl. Psychiatry 113 805/2   What preventive measures can we take? A number are suggested.
1990   Music Technol. Apr. 7/1   This is the first system of its kind to be installed outside the USA, where a number are already installed.

1566—1990(Hide quotations)

 

c. In partitive construction without of. Obsolete. rare.

1583   G. Babington Very Fruitfull Expos. Commaundem. vi. 278   With a number such mockes and diuelish tauntes.
1583   G. Babington Very Fruitfull Expos. Commaundem. vi. 285   Vnto which and a number such other perswasions in the worde the prophane writers..haue agreed.
1598   N. Breton Solemne Passion Soules Loue sig. A3   A number plagues the Lord did further threaten.

1583—1598(Hide quotations)

 

d. As a mass noun. Obsolete. rare.

1663   B. Gerbier Counsel to Builders sig. g2v   Nor is this present Age void of number of Authors, who have written more on Architecture.
1664   B. Gerbier Counsel to Builders (new ed.) i. sig. e6   Clovis..did Coat number of Flour-de-lis.

1663—1664(Hide quotations)

 

11. A (considerable) quantity or amount (of). Obsolete.

1477   W. Caxton tr. R. Le Fèvre Hist. Jason (1913) 103   They..promised them grete nombre of money if they might come & obteyne their entent.
1534   R. Whittington tr. Cicero Thre Bks. Tullyes Offyces iii. sig. S.1   An honest man hath..brought a great nombre of wheate in the derth tyme.
1540   in B. Cusack Everyday Eng. 1500–1700 (1998) 113   One his clok lap scho vas deliuerand hyme mony scho kennis not ye nomor of ye miony.
c1650   J. Spalding Memorialls Trubles Scotl. & Eng. (1850) I. 347   The cordineris of both Abirdeins wes commandit..to give wp..the number of thair ledder, and to mak wp..thair portioun of 20,000 pair of schois.
1720   Humourist 185   I have seen..one Man plowing with one Horse; which..saves a Number of Money.

1477—1720(Hide quotations)

 
 12. In plural.

 a. A (great, infinite, etc.) multitude of people or things.

1488  (c1478)    Hary Actis & Deidis Schir William Wallace (Adv.) (1968–9) vii. l. 1104   He chargyt thaim with nowmeris mony ane Rycht weill beseyn in Scotland for to ryd.
c1540  (?a1400)    Gest Historiale Destr. Troy 11139   What fortherit the fight of þo fell maidyns, Syn the grekes on hom gedrit in so gret nowmbers?
1555   in Dict. Older Sc. Tongue (1973) IV. 595/1   The deir..ar slane in great nowmeris in all this pairtis.
?1573   L. Lloyd Pilgrimage of Princes 21   Xerxes,..whose infinite numbers of Navies covered the Ocean seas.
1600   J. Pory tr. J. Leo Africanus Geogr. Hist. Afr. vi. 271   Here are infinite numbers of scorpions, but no flies at all.
1651   T. Hobbes Leviathan ii. xxix. 166   It hath the resemblance of an unjust act; which disposeth great numbers of men..to rebell.
1690   J. Locke Ess. Humane Understanding i. iii. 26   Tenets, which are firmly believed..and which great numbers are ready at any time to seal with their Blood.
1726   J. Swift Gulliver II. iii. viii. 112   I had the Curiosity to enquire..by what Method great Numbers had procured to themselves high Titles of Honour.
1785   T. Jefferson Notes Virginia vi. 108 (note)    Great numbers of French, of English, and of Americans, are perfectly acquainted with these people.
1813   Duke of Wellington Dispatches (1838) XI. 21   The French have lost immense numbers of men.
1847–9   Todd's Cycl. Anat. & Physiol. IV. i. 2/2   The numbers in which these creatures abound baffles all expression.
1944   R. Matheson Entomol. for Introd. Courses xii. 244   The pink and green potato aphid..frequently occurs in immense numbers.
1987   P. Auster Country of Last Things (1988) 131   Dr. Woburn was among the first to call attention to the growing numbers of homeless people.

1488—1987(Hide quotations)

 

 b. Many people or things.

1597   R. Hooker Of Lawes Eccl. Politie v. lxviii. 185   Whereas none of them which were in the one could perish, numbers in the other are cast away.
1629   in P. H. Brown Reg. Privy Council Scotl. (1901) 2nd Ser. III. 66   Be beggarlie lymmaris of who lykeways nombers lyes between Leith and Edinburgh.
1667   J. Milton Paradise Lost xi. 480   A Lazar-house it seemd, wherein were laid Numbers of all diseas'd.  View more context for this quotation
1709   J. Swift Project Advancem. Relig. 7   They might..be raised to as high a Perfection as Numbers are capable of receiving.
1762   O. Goldsmith Citizen of World II. 44   There are numbers in this city who live by writing new books.
1801   M. Edgeworth Forester in Moral Tales I. 70   Able to speak..before numbers.
1861   F. Metcalfe Oxonian in Iceland (1867) 182   Numbers of fish kept rising at my grilse flies.
1866   S. Wilberforce Speeches on Missions (1874) 261   It was a time when sermons were read by numbers, and admired by multitudes.
1925   L. O'Flaherty Informer (1989) 223   I know numbers of them.
1991   T. Marshall Changelings (1992) vii. 119   They are sought after by numbers of wolves.

1597—1991(Hide quotations)

 

 c. Numerical preponderance; the fact of being numerous. Frequently in force (also weight) of numbers .safety in numbers: see safety n. Phrases 3.

1638   T. Herbert Some Yeares Trav. (rev. ed.) 289   1000 Persians were slaine and 20000 Turks; but by their numbers the Persians were forced to leave the field.
1639   G. Daniel Vervicensis 67   My name preserve By force of Numbers, which revert the Lawes Of Destinie.
1645   J. Winthrop Declar. Former Passages 7   The Narrowgansets and their confederates rest on their numbers, weapons, & opportunityes to do mischief.
1761   C. Churchill Night 16   Can numbers then change Nature's stated laws? Can numbers make the worse the better cause?
1776   H. H. Brackenridge Battle of Bunkers-Hill 43   Our right wing push'd, our left surrounded, Weight of numbers five to one.
1861   F. Metcalfe Oxonian in Iceland (1867) 176   Coming to close quarters, they overpowered the foreigners by force of numbers.
1898   Argosy May 256   Their one idea was..hooking on with gangways, overpower them by force of numbers.
1910   Encycl. Brit. I. 820/1   His troops were raw and possessed no decisive superiority in numbers.
1941   Faugh-a-Ballagh 34 97/2   A series of heavy mass attacks, designed to crush the R.A.F. by sheer weight of numbers and to sweep the skies clear.
1992   WWF News 90   The lucky ones..will remain here for the rest of their lives unless driven out by force of numbers.

1638—1992(Hide quotations)

 
 III. Senses relating to the action of enumerating.
 13.

a. An enumeration, an account; a reckoning; (also) a count, a census. Obsolete. rare.

a1382   Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (Bodl. 959) (1961) Lev. xxv. 14   After þe noumbre [a1425 L.V. rekenyng; L. supputationem] of frutes, he shal sulle to þe.
c1626   H. Bisset Rolment Courtis (1922) II. 105   Heir followes the..numer of all the monasteries..ministeries..nunries and cells withtin the kingdome.
1831   T. Buttrick Voy. 33   Two gentlemen undertook to take a number of these people, and found it to be about twelve hundred.

a1382—1831(Hide quotations)

 
 

 b. In modern use in form Numbers, with singular agreement. A book of the Old Testament and Hebrew Scriptures, which includes an account of a census of the Israelites. In early use also in singular.

c1425   Bible (Wycliffite, L.V.) (Queen's Oxf.) Num. Prol. 364   This book clepid Numeri, that is to seie, the book of Noumbre.
a1450  (c1395)    Prefatory Epist. St. Jerome in Bible (Wycliffite, L.V.) (New Coll. Oxf.) (1850) 68   The book of Noumbre..wher he conteyne not the mysteries of al the hool crafte..and of the profecie of Balaam, and of the xlij dwellyngis in wildirnesse?
1502   tr. Ordynarye of Crysten Men (de Worde) iv. xxi. sig. aa.i   Ye auncyent testament in the .xxv. chapytre of nombres.
1563   2nd Tome Homelyes Idolatry iii, in J. Griffiths Two Bks. Homilies (1859) ii. 175   As it is written in the book of Numbers, the twenty-third chapter, that there was no idol in Jacob.
1589   T. Cooper Admon. People of Eng. 127   In the Nombers, he that brake the Sabbath day, was stoned to death.
1649   F. Roberts Clavis Bibliorum (ed. 2) 52   Numbers,..so called because a great part of the Book, especially at the beginning, is spent in Numbring of the Tribes and Families of Israel.
1728   E. Chambers Cycl. at Pentateuch   The five books of Moses..; viz. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
1840   Penny Cycl. XVII. 426/2   The book of Deuteronomy supposes the previous composition of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.
1875   Encycl. Brit. III. 638/1   The Levitico-Elohistic document, which embraces most of the laws in Leviticus with large parts of Exodus and Numbers.
1910   Encycl. Brit. I. 716/2   The rod of Aaron, mentioned in Numbers xvii., was taken from an almond-tree.
1989   R. Alter Pleasures of Reading iv. 118   We get a sense of restitution made in Joshua for the espionage fiasco of Numbers.
1996   Church Times 16 Feb. 11/4   Setting Numbers against John..invites us to commit the second-century heresy of Marcionism.

c1425—1996(Hide quotations)

 
 IV. Technical senses involving the application of numerical properties.
14.

 a. Harmony; conformity, in verse or music, to a certain regular beat or measure; rhythm. Obsolete.

a1382   Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (Bodl. 959) (1965) Ecclus. xxxii. 8   As in forgyng of gold signe is of a smaragd, so þe noumbre of musikis in myrie & temprat win.
a1500  (c1477)    T. Norton Ordinal of Alchemy (BL Add.) (1975) 2364   Withowte tru nombre no man truly may singe.
1553   T. Wilson Arte of Rhetorique iii. f. 85v   He maie appere to kepe an vniformitiee, and (as I might saie) a nomber in the vttering of his sentence.
1584   King James VI & I Ess. Prentise Poesie sig. Eij   The harmony of nomber tone and song.
a1629   W. Hinde Faithfull Remonstr. (1641) iii. 11   Mixt dancing of men and women, with light and lascivious gestures and actions, framed in number and measure to please a wanton eye.
1667   J. Milton Paradise Lost iv. 687   With Heav'nly touch of instrumental sounds In full harmonic number joind.  View more context for this quotation

a1382—1667(Hide quotations)

 

 b. The arithmetic proportion corresponding to a given harmonic interval. Obsolete.

a1387   J. Trevisa tr. R. Higden Polychron. (St. John's Cambr.) (1871) III. 205 (MED)   He [sc. Pythagoras] gan to fynde noumbres by þe whiche sownes accordeþ, and so he spedde to make þe craft of musyk.
c1400   J. Trevisa tr. R. Higden Polychron. (Tiber.) f. 92 (MED)   Whanne þes acordes wer yfounde, Picthagoras ȝaf ham names, & so þat a clepuþ in numbre double, a clepeþ in sounes dyapason, & þat a clepeþ in numbre oþer half, a clepeþ in sounes diapente.
a1500  (c1477)    T. Norton Ordinal of Alchemy (BL Add.) (1975) 1669   Accordis which in musike be, with theire proporcions cawsen Armonye, Moch like proporcions be in Alchemye, As for the grete nombres actualle.
1579   E. K. in E. Spenser Shepheardes Cal. Oct. 27 Gloss.   Plato and Pythagoras, held for opinion, that the mynd was made of a certaine harmonie and musicall nombers.

a1387—1579(Hide quotations)

 

15. A geometrical figure. Obsolete. rare.

a1398   J. Trevisa tr. Bartholomaeus Anglicus De Proprietatibus Rerum (BL Add.) f. 328   Þe numbre lyneal begynneþ fro oon and is y-write arewe and lyne anon to endeles.
a1398   J. Trevisa tr. Bartholomaeus Anglicus De Proprietatibus Rerum (BL Add.) f. 328   Þe numbre superficial is y-write nought oonliche in lengþe but also in brede..a þrecornered nombre and foure cornered and fyue cornered and rounde.

a1398—a1398(Hide quotations)

 

 16. Grammar. The classification of word forms according to the number of entities to which they refer, usually one or more than one; (also) a particular form so classified.

a1398   J. Trevisa tr. Bartholomaeus Anglicus De Proprietatibus Rerum (BL Add.) f. 9v   Eueriche is I-seide..of al þre at ones in þe singuler noumbre & nouȝt in plural.
c1400  (?a1387)    W. Langland Piers Plowman (Huntington HM 137) (1873) C. iv. 339   In kynde, in cas, and in numbre.
c1443   R. Pecock Reule of Crysten Religioun (1927) 72 (MED)   Speche in þe plurel noumbre vndirstondun of oon persoon is nouȝwhere ellis usid in holy scripture.
c1450   J. Capgrave Life St. Katherine (Arun. 396) (1893) i. 255   She hadde maystres..To teeche hir of retoryk and gramer..The cases, the novmbres, and such-maner gyse.
c1450   in D. Thomson Middle Eng. Grammatical Texts (1984) 17   Wyt qwat case wele þe comparatyf degre construe? Wyt ablatyf case of bothe nowmberis.
1523   J. Fitzherbert Bk. Surueyeng ix. f. 9   Where he sayth de molendinis, ye whiche is in the plurell nombre.
1591   R. Percyvall Bibliotheca Hispanica Gram. sig. B3   There are two numbers, the singular speaking of one, the plurall of moe.
a1637   B. Jonson Eng. Gram. i. viii, in Wks. (1640) III   Of Number, that word is termed to be, which signifieth a number singular, or plurall.
1680   in Jrnl. Eng. & Germ. Philol. (1937) 36 459   Neutrall are the names of countries, cities, towns and villages..diminutives and words of number..and adjectives.
1738   Gentleman's Mag. Apr. 182/2   The Plural Number of ὕδωρ is often made use of where a large Quantity of Water is designed to be expressed.
1795   L. Murray Eng. Gram. 26   The singular number expresses but one object.
1872   R. Morris Hist. Outl. Eng. Accidence 93   The oldest English had the dual number only in the personal pronouns, which we no longer preserve.
1933   L. Bloomfield Language xvi. 272   Distinctions of number..are merged with the gender-classification.
1992   ELT Jrnl. 46 90   Non-native speakers of English..express horror and amazement at the discovery of ‘singular they’ which goes against all they have learned about number concord.

a1398—1992(Hide quotations)

 
 17.

a. In plural. Metrical periods or feet; lines, verses. Obsolete (rare in later use).

1579   E. Spenser Shepheardes Cal. Oct. sig. L3 v   The numbers rise so ful, & the verse groweth so big, that it seemeth he hath forgot the meanenesse of shepheards state and stile.
1598   W. Shakespeare Love's Labour's Lost iv. iii. 54   I feare these stubborne lines lacke power to moue... These numbers will I teare, and write in prose.  View more context for this quotation
1629   W. Davenant Trag. Albovine Ded.   My Numbers I do not shew unto the publick Eye, with an ambition to be quickly known.
1667   J. Milton Paradise Lost iii. 38   Then feed on thoughts, that voluntarie move Harmonious numbers .  View more context for this quotation
1711   A. Pope Ess. Crit. 21   Most by Numbers judge a Poet's Song, And smooth or rough, with such, is right or wrong.
1773   H. Chapone Lett. Improvem. Mind II. 167   Numbers and rhymes..being so easily learn'd by heart.
1808   L. Murray Eng. Gram. Illustr. I. App. ii. iii. 457   Our translators of the Bible, have often been happy in suiting their numbers to the subject.
1849   T. B. Macaulay Hist. Eng. II. vii. 202   Men were in no humour to be charmed by the transparent style and melodious numbers of the apostate.
1915   W. S. Maugham Of Human Bondage cxviii. 624   Those fresh, strong girls whom old Herrick had praised in exquisite numbers.

1579—1915(Hide quotations)

 

 b. In plural. Musical periods; groups of notes; (gen.) melodies, musical strains. Also in extended use with reference to birdsong, etc. Now poetic.

1595   B. Barnes Divine Cent. Spirituall Sonnets sig. Cv   Why turne you not your numbers musicall To God aboue mans praise which ruleth all?
a1625   F. Beaumont & J. Fletcher Philaster v. i, in F. Beaumont & J. Fletcher Comedies & Trag. (1679)    The god that sings His holy numbers [1620 Number] over marriage beds, Hath knit their noble hearts.
1671   J. Milton Paradise Regain'd iv. 252   The secret power Of harmony in tones and numbers hit By voice or hand.  View more context for this quotation
1693   M. Prior Lady of Quality's playing on Lute in Examen Poeticum 438   That with Your Numbers you our Zeal might raise.
1702   N. Rowe Tamerlane i. i. sig. C3v   When some skilful Artist strikes the Strings, The magick numbers rouse our sleeping Passions.
1772   W. Jones Poems 138   Now on the flute with equal grace he play'd, And his soft numbers died along the shade.
1810   W. Scott Lady of Lake i. 3   Harp of the North! that..down the fitful breeze thy numbers flung.
a1839   W. M. Praed Poems (1864) II. 354   Pour again those holy numbers, Which thou warblest there alone.
a1861   D. Gray Yellowhammer in Poet. Wks. (1874) 157   I'll sing to you in numbers high A summer song that shall not die.
1915   J. Rhoades Aurea Ætas 52   Not too harshly in your ears may sound The sigh-born numbers of an exile's song.
a1945   J. C. Ransom Winter Remembered in Sel. Poems (1963) 38   Your improbable tale Is recited in the classic numbers of the nightingale.

1595—a1945(Hide quotations)

 

c. Prosody. A metrical subdivision of a line. Obsolete. rare—1.

1797   Monthly Mag. 3 258 (note)    Whatever exceeded two times (a short syllable being estimated as half a time) was termed not a foot but a number.

1797—1797(Hide quotations)

 
 V. Senses relating to number as an abstract property, faculty, or principle.

18. The fact of being numerous; = sense 12c. Obsolete.

c1390   G. Chaucer Melibeus B. 2846   The victorie of batailles..lith nat in greet nombre or multitude of peple.
a1522   G. Douglas tr. Virgil Æneid (1957) ii. vii. 109   By multitude and nowmyr apon ws set All ȝeid to wraik.
1612   F. Bacon Ess. (new ed.) 235   Walled Towns,..Masse of treasure, Number in Armies.., are all but a Sheep in a Lions skin, except the..disposition of the people be militarie.
1667   J. Milton Paradise Lost v. 901   Nor number, nor example with him wrought To swerve from truth.  View more context for this quotation

c1390—1667(Hide quotations)

 
 

 19. That aspect of things which is involved in considering them as separate units of which one or more may be taken or distinguished.

1570   H. Billingsley tr. Euclid Elements Geom. vii. f. 183   Nomber compaseth all thinges, and is..the being and very essence of all thinges.
1611   T. Heywood Golden Age ii. sig. D2v   Shall I sweet Lady, adde vnto your grace, And but for number-sake supply that place?
1623   P. Massinger Duke of Millaine i. iii. 334   This present iourney, (From whence it is all number to a cypher, I ner'e returne with honor).
1690   J. Locke Ess. Humane Understanding ii. xvi. 100   Our Idea of Infinity..seems to be nothing but the Infinity of Number.
1776   S. Foote Bankrupt ii. 37   I..call'd him a citizen, in the London Gazette,..Pass'd a few necessary notes to get him number and value, white-wash'd him, and sent him home.
a1782   Ld. Kames Elements Crit. (1785) II. App. 518   A child..perceives a difference between many and few; and that difference it is taught to call number.
1866   Duke of Argyll Reign of Law ii. 75   These laws of number and proportion pervade all Nature.
1884   tr. H. Lotze Logic 189   That other saying.., that God has ordered everything by measure and number.
1943   Jrnl. Psychol. 15 99   The use of such directly representational methods as bags of pebbles or tally sticks..which allow exact representation of number and accurate designation of the number of items already noted or counted.
1973   Sci. Amer. Apr. 103/3   Nonmathematical scholars tend to view with profound indifference the tortures that mathematicians suffer over such basic issues as the nature of number.
1991   C. Mansall Discover Astrol. i. 17/1   Music was thought to be the expression of number in terms of sound.

1570—1991(Hide quotations)

 

 20. The faculty of reckoning or calculating (originally in phrenology).

1815   J. G. Spurzheim Physiognom. Syst. viii. 441   All that which concerns unity and plurality—number—seems to belong to this faculty.
1835   Brit. Cycl. Arts & Sci. 2 218/1   The organ of calculation or number (as it is sometimes called) is marked 28.
1885   Encycl. Brit. XVIII. 845/2   Number, on the external angular process of the frontal bone.
1988   N. Chomsky Lang. & Probl. of Knowl. v. 167   Birds may have certain limited capacities to match arrays of not too many items, but that has nothing to do with the faculty of number.

1815—1988(Hide quotations)

 

Phrases

 P1.

 a. In phrases denoting that persons, things, etc., have not been, or cannot be, counted. Esp. in without number, (now chiefly South Asian) out of number.

c1325  (c1300)    Chron. Robert of Gloucester (Calig.) 8161   Folc of arabie, So muche þat þer nas non noumbre of hor compainye.
c1330  (?a1300)    Arthour & Merlin (Auch.) (1973) 7297 (MED)   Man and hous þai brent and bredden And her godes oway ledden, Wiþouten no [m] bre.
c1390   G. Chaucer Melibeus 2579   Ther of folweth another vengeance, peril, and werre, and othere damages with oute nombre.
c1400  (c1378)    W. Langland Piers Plowman (Laud 581) (1869) B. xx. 267   Ȝe [sc. friars] wexeth out of noumbre.
c1450  (?a1400)    Wars Alexander (Ashm.) 449 (MED)   Þis hathill man..sall..out of nounbre to neuyn of nacions wynn.
c1475  (?c1400)    Apol. Lollard Doctr. (1842) 5   He lediþ..to helle peple wiþ outun nowmbre.
1483   W. Caxton tr. J. de Voragine Golden Legende 366 b/1   The holy poure ladyes whiche [thou] hast drawen to penaunce without nombre.
1534   R. Whittington tr. Cicero Thre Bks. Tullyes Offyces i. sig. D.4*   Marathon, Salamyne, Plate,..& other out of nombre.
1611   Bible (King James) Judges vii. 12   Their camels were without number, as the sand by the Sea side for multitude.  View more context for this quotation
1667   J. Milton Paradise Lost iii. 346   A shout Loud as from numbers without number.  View more context for this quotation
1697   J. Dryden tr. Virgil Æneis xi, in tr. Virgil Wks. 547   The conquer'd Latians..Piles without number for their Dead prepare.
1739   D. Hume Treat. Human Nature II. i. 63   The instances are here without number.
1751   S. Johnson Rambler No. 36. ⁋5   The sense of this universal pleasure has invited numbers without number to try their skill in pastoral performances.
1821   J. Bentham Elements Art of Packing 92   Persons out of number are amusing themselves with rendering what, I hope, appears to themselves, at least, good service to the country.
1878   T. Hardy Return of Native III. vi. iii. 288   The sun was sending up the valley the same long shadow of the housetop that he had seen lying there times out of number.
1892   Law Times 92 147/1   Times without number the courts in bankruptcy have been called upon to decide the question.
1923   National Geographic Mag. Apr. 400/1   Accidents and delays without number would occur.
1993   U. Chatterjee Last Burden (1994) iv. 179   To bewail its attrition is the singularity in Shyamanand that his sons, times out of number, have smirked at.

c1325—1993(Hide quotations)

 

 b. in number: in total, in sum; altogether. Formerly also †by number, †of number.

a1375  (c1350)    William of Palerne (1867) 2289 (MED)   Kene men of armes, twenty hundered & tvo trewli in numbre.
a1382   Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) 2 Kings ii. 15   Þanne risen & wentyn twelue bi nowmbre[a1425 L.V. in noumbre; L. numero] of benjamyn.
a1425  (?a1400)    G. Chaucer Romaunt Rose (Hunterian) 5259   Tweyne of noumbre is bet than thre In every counsell and secre.
a1450   tr. Guy de Chauliac Grande Chirurgie (Caius 336/725) (1970) 30 (MED)   Greuaunce of þe yȝe browis..in noumbre ben 15.
c1480  (a1400)    St. Barnabas 27 in W. M. Metcalfe Legends Saints Sc. Dial. (1896) I. 250   Dyscipilis..þat in nomir war lxx & twa.
a1538   T. Starkey Dial. Pole & Lupset (1989) 100   We schold not only have the pepul incresyd in nombur, but also [etc.].
1573   T. Tusser Fiue Hundreth Points Good Husbandry (new ed.) f. 45   These toppingly gests, be in number but ten.
1615   G. Sandys Relation of Journey 50   In number about thirtie or fortie thousand.
c1634   in Sc. Antiquary (1892) 6 60   [Sheep] nyne scoire and fyve in number.
1667   J. Milton Paradise Lost vi. 49   Equal in number to that Godless crew.  View more context for this quotation
1749   H. Fielding Tom Jones IV. ix. i. 95   Where the Beauties, more in Number, shine.  View more context for this quotation
1776   P. Schuyler Let. 12 Oct. in J. Judd Corr. Van Cortlandt Family (1977) 89   This enables me to send you all the batteaux I have here, but they are only ten or eleven in number.
c1790   W. Cowper Catharina (N.Y., Morgan Libr.) 1   Though the pleasures of London exceed In number the days of the year.
1869   R. H. Dana Two Years before Mast (rev. ed.) 435   San Francisco, with its..thousand-ton clipper ships, more in number than London or Liverpool sheltered that day.
1886   Law Times 82 94/1   A mortgage of the stock of sheep, about 6500 in number, on an Australian run.
1920   Amer. Woman Aug. 21/1   The motifs, four in number, are connected by lines of cording.
1992   Nat. Hist. Feb. 44/1   About fifty in number, these genes, clustered on chromosome 17 in mice..are known as the major histocompatibility locus.

a1375—1992(Hide quotations)

 

c. in number: in numerical place or order. Obsolete.

▸ ?a1439   J. Lydgate Fall of Princes (Bodl. 263) ix. 1060 (MED)   Than onto Bochas cam the tuelue in noumbre, Callid Pope Iohn.
c1480  (a1400)    St. Matthias 3 in W. M. Metcalfe Legends Saints Sc. Dial. (1896) I. 222   Þe apostil sancte mathy, þat In nowmyr þe laste ves, In stad of þe tratour Iudas.
1562   N. Winȝet Certain Tractates (1888) I. 2   Thre Questionis,..quhilkis ar in noumbre the xxxiii. xxxiiii. and xxxv. of The Four Score Thre Questionis.

?a1439—1562(Hide quotations)

 

d. in number with (also of) : together or along with. Obsolete. rare.

1488  (c1478)    Hary Actis & Deidis Schir William Wallace (Adv.) (1968–9) x. l. 180   Off this dispyt amendys I think to haiff, Or de thar-for in nowmyr with the laiff.
a1530  (c1425)    Andrew of Wyntoun Oryg. Cron. Scotl. (Royal) viii. 6708   That thai mycht In nowmyre of thai xxx feicht.

1488—a1530(Hide quotations)

 
 

 P2. to (also of, etc.) the number of (a specified number). Formerly also without preposition.

a1387   J. Trevisa tr. R. Higden Polychron. (St. John's Cambr.) (1865) I. 341 (MED)   Bartholanus..come þider wiþ his þre sones..and [they] encresede to þe noumbre of nyne þowsand men.
a1393   J. Gower Confessio Amantis (Fairf.) vii. 1102 (MED)   Libra sit in the nombre of sevene.
?a1450  (▸1422)    J. Lydgate Serpent of Division (McClean) (1911) 60   Sche sente þe schorte somme of hir sentence..compendiously in þe Nombre of sixe lettirs.
a1470   T. Malory Morte Darthur (Winch. Coll. 13) (1990) III. 1196   Many owchys, isette with stonys and perelys in golde, to the numbir of a thousande.
a1533   Ld. Berners tr. Arthur of Brytayn (?1560) cii. sig. D*vv   Al thys company were to the numbre of .xv. thousande knightes.
1582   N. Lichefield tr. F. L. de Castanheda 1st Bk. Hist. Discouerie E. Indias i. vii. 18 b   Where also then were in sight the number of twentie Moores skirmishing with their dartes.
1629   in P. H. Brown Reg. Privy Council Scotl. (1901) 2nd Ser. III. 51   Unleveyed..of the nomber of threttie sax.
1643   in Charters, Writs & Pub. Documents Dundee (1880) 89   Every boat comming into the shore..sall exact thereof the number of one hundreth herings.
1699   G. Farquhar Love & Bottle iii. 25   There was Mrs. Mary, Mrs. Margaret, Mrs. Lucy, Mrs. Susan, Mrs. Judy, and so forth; to the number of five and twenty, or thereabouts.
1720   D. Defoe Mem. Cavalier 209   Stamford's Regiment was entirely cut in Pieces, and several others, to the Number of about 800 Men.
1775   P. Van Cortlandt Let. 13 Nov. in J. Judd Corr. Van Cortlandt Family (1977) 33   Tories from the eastward..to the number of two or three hundred.
1852   J. D. Canning Harp & Plow 155   The candidates mounted the stump for display; While some Oberlin men, To the number of ten, Bethought it a matter for which they should pray.
1926   W. Lewis Art of being Ruled vii. v. 203   The groups..are to be counted to the number of four.
1986   B. Lopez Arctic Dreams vi. 231   There were..mock moons or paraselenae to the number of six.

a1387—1986(Hide quotations)

 
 P3. to make up (the) numbers (also number) .
 

 a. To complete a company or quantity, usually of predetermined size.

a1616   W. Shakespeare Julius Caesar (1623) iv. ii. 262   The Enemy, marching along by them, By them shall make a fuller number vp .  View more context for this quotation
1623   Bp. J. Hall Great Impostor 45   Like to some vnfaithfull Captaine that hath..filled his purse with dead paies, made vp the number of his companies with borrowed men.
1667   R. Allestree Causes Decay Christian Piety viii. 233   Though it hath too many voluntiers, yet sure 'tis this press that helps to make up its numbers.
1720   A. Pennecuik Streams from Helicon (ed. 2) ii. 155   A learn'd Clerk, five Tradesmen, and a Swain Call'd Colin, who dwelt in the neighbouring Plain, Made up the Number of Corisca's Train.
1754   S. Fielding & J. Collier Cry i. ix. 159   Two girls and a boy made up the number of this little society.
1850   N. Kingsley Diary 21 Apr. (1914) 119   They drifted once more and made up the number of 51 salmon.
1891   T. Hardy Tess III. xliii. 59   Now you go and lie down there, and Izz and I will make up your number.
1989   C. Hitchens in I. Hamilton Penguin Bk. 20th-cent. Ess. (1999) 529   He explains that he and his fellows are one short of a quorum for prayer. Will I make up the number?
2001   J. Robinson Voices of Queensland iv. 111   A person recruited temporarily..to make up the numbers in a gang.

a1616—2001(Hide quotations)

 
 

 b. Of a person: to be included in a party merely for convenience of numbers; (hence) to have only nominal importance.

1976   Economist (Nexis) 21 Feb. 27   In some faculties standards would drop if less well qualified British students had to be accepted to make up numbers.
1985   L. Griffiths Arthur Daley's Guide to doing it Right 98   The rest are just making up the numbers.
1996   White Dwarf Sept. 98/2   The White Dwarf is a really hard character and any followers you send with him are just there to make up the numbers.

1976—1996(Hide quotations)

 

 P4. colloquial. one's number is up and variants  [with reference to the number on a person's lottery ticket, or some other number by which a person may be identified, as an army number] : one's time (to die, etc.) has come, one is finished or doomed. See also Phrases 8.

1804   C. Lamb Let. 13 Jan. in Lett. C. & M. A. Lamb (1976) II. 130   Though this is a lottery to which none But G. Burnett would chuse to trust his all, there is no harm just to call in at Despair's office for a friend, and see if his number is come up.
1899   C. Rook Hooligan Nights iv. 56   You couldn't tallygraft to Billy no more. His number's up awright, wiv no error.
1915   ‘Bartimeus’ Tall Ship i. 11   I think our number's up, old thing.
1937   V. Bartlett This is my Life xi. 188   The Director-General said that he would nevertheless like me to broadcast a short talk under my own name... My number was up.
1975   J. Aiken Voices in Empty House xviii. 331   He'd got leukaemia. He knew his number was up.
1989   G. E. Klyve & C. G. Oakley Legend of Perseus i. 33   Down and down the submarine sank. Danaë truly believed that her number, whichever one it was, was up, and waited tensely for the inrush of water.

1804—1989(Hide quotations)

 

 P5. slang (originally Military and Navy). to lose the number of one's mess : to die, to be killed. So to settle the number of a person's mess : to cause a person's death. Now archaic and rare.

1807   in A. Paget Paget Papers (1896) II. 314   If we are going against Copenhagen many of us will lose the number of our mess.
1834   F. Marryat Peter Simple II. xiv. 240   I have an idea that some of us will lose the number of our mess.
1881   J. F. T. Keane Six Months in Meccah 60   Fetching me one on the skull, that would have ‘settled the number of my mess’, but for the thickness of my too attractive head-dress.
1911   C. E. W. Bean ‘Dreadnought’ of Darling xxx. 260   That meant a ride out to the blacks' camp and some of them losing the number of their mess. It did not matter who was shot.
1931   in H. M. Tomlinson Best Short Stories of War 387   It's the like o' them nine inchers can lose ye the number of yer mess, just by the blast of its passing.

1807—1931(Hide quotations)

 

 P6. Nautical. to make her number :  (a) (of a ship) to communicate by signal the figure by which she is registered; (in later use) (also figurative) to make one's number (colloquial): to report one's arrival, to report for duty, to pay a duty or courtesy call, to make oneself known;  (b) (of a ship) to obtain a good place on the shipping register (obsolete).

1836   F. Marryat Pirate xvii, in Pirate & Three Cutters 199   The Enterprise had made her number outside; but that she was becalmed.
1861   J. Lamont Seasons with Sea-horses xviii. 293   We found that the ‘Anna Louise’ had only made her number twelve hours before us.
1880   Daily Tel. 14 Apr. 5/5   The good ship had a first-rate captain, a skilled crew, was well found and fitted, and she may ‘make her number’ yet.
1924   G. H. A. Willis Royal Navy 269   We went off to the Duke of Wellington to ‘make our number’ to the commodore's wife.
1927   B. M. Chambers Salt Junk xxx. 256   Almost every ship on her way to and from South America makes her number to the island [sc. Fernando Noronha].
1945   ‘N. Shute’ Most Secret ix. 211   Captain (D.) was there to see them off; I made my number with him as representing V.A.C.O. and we stood chatting for a time.
1958   M. Dickens Man Overboard xii. 192   Ben saw himself on Speech Day, making his number with mothers in garden-party hats.
1989   Daily Tel. 27 June 21/8   I was able to make my number at every port we visited.

1836—1989(Hide quotations)

 

 P7. figurative. to get (also take, etc.) a person's number : to have or make an accurate assessment of a person's true character, motives, weaknesses, etc. Cf. measure n. 12b.

1853   C. Dickens Bleak House lvii. 550   Whenever a person proclaims to you ‘In worldly matters I'm a child,’..that person is only a crying off from being held accountable, and..you have got that person's number, and it's Number One.
1889   ‘M. Twain’ Connecticut Yankee xxxiv. 450   Let him go, for the present: I took his number, so to speak.
1908   N.Y. American 9 Aug. s1/1   We have their number now..and they are due for a cleaning.
1920   W. Hard Raymond Robins' Own Story 190   To hurt Bolshevism you need at least to get its number.
1970   G. Jackson Let. 29 May in Soledad Brother (1971) 265   Big Brother. He is rather transparent. I have his number.
1990   Independent 30 Jan. 19   She soon got the number of the football authorities... They were..forever telling her why something could not be done.

1853—1990(Hide quotations)

 

 P8. colloquial (originally Military). to have a person's number on it : (of a bullet, shell, etc.) to be destined to strike or kill that person (see quot. 1965). Also in extended use. Cf. name n. and adj. Phrases 18.

1917   A. G. Empey Over Top 312   He knows that it is only a matter of minutes before a German shell with his name and number on it will be knocking at his door.
1925   E. Fraser & J. Gibbons Soldier & Sailor Words 163   Name (or number) on, to have one's, said of a bullet that hit a man; i.e., that it was destined for him.
1965   J. Brophy & E. Partridge Long Trail 154   Number On, a fatalistic but consolatory superstition insisted that no man need fear any bullet or shell, however close it came, unless it had his regimental number (or his name and number) engraved on it.
1974   ‘C. Fremlin’ By Horror Haunted 15   I'm as safe here as..any where..if it's got your number on it, you'll get it, no matter where you are!
1992   Men's Health July 96/3   Somewhere out there is a rocker-recliner with your number on it.

1917—1992(Hide quotations)

 
 P9.

 a. North American (originally and chiefly Military). by the numbers  [in humorous reference to the practice of military training (see quot. 1946)] : with military precision, mechanically, in a routine manner.

c1918   J. F. Trounstine Give me Kiss by Numbers (song) 3   Give me a kiss by the numbers, I want to do things in a military way.
1921   Pirate Piece Nov. 3/1   By the numbers, men, refill the glass on 4.
1946   Amer. Speech 21 251   In training certain fundamental operations, such as putting on a gas mask, are taught by the numbers—at the count of one, the carrier is unfastened, at the count of two the mask is removed... To do anything ‘by the numbers’ is to do it in a practiced, routine, semi-automatic manner.
1994   S. Matheson Flying Frontiers ix. 173   I'm not a ‘by the numbers’ pilot—I'm a ‘by the seat of the pants’ pilot.

c1918—1994(Hide quotations)

 

 b. Originally British Military. by numbers: following simple instructions (as if) identified by numbers; (frequently derogatory) performed or accomplished in a mechanical, schematic, or unimaginative manner. Usually as postmodifier forming phrases. See also to paint by number(s) at paint v.1 Phrases 4.

1941   Faugh-a-Ballagh 34 73/2   Once we progressed beyond the ‘about turn by numbers’ stage and ventured forth into the field, things began to move.
a1944   N. Coward in B. Day N. Coward: Compl. Lyrics (1998) 217/2   Let's fly away To where we don't do things by numbers Where no ‘Reveille’ wrecks our slumbers.
1987   D. Coulby & T. Booth Producing & reducing Disaffection 88   Classroom Assistant (Infants)... 9.30: Helped T with house picture (drawing by numbers). 9.45: Help A with colouring of shapes.
1990   T. Brighouse & B. Moon Managing National Curriculum 106   The last thing we want is teaching by numbers, reducing learning to a series of mechanistic measured units.
1995   Independent 7 Nov. ii. 14/2   A rare moment of tender loving design amidst a sea of cynical design-by-numbers clothes.
2001   Muzik Jan. 96/4   Ferry Corsten has kept his head below the parapet... This, however, is enormo trance-by-numbers.

1941—2001(Hide quotations)

 

 P10. colloquial. to lose one's number : to make a gaffe, to lose face. rare.

a1936   R. Kipling Something of Myself (1937) iv. 86   He produced a bottle of real Tokay, which I tasted, and lost my number badly by saying that it reminded me of some medicinal wine.

a1936—a1936(Hide quotations)

 
 P11.

 a. U.S. colloquial (originally in African-American usage). to do a number (occasionally to lay a number ): to act with destructive force or impact; to criticize or humiliate; (hence) to have a strong, usually adverse effect. Frequently with on.

1968   H. Lit Unbelievable Dict. Hip Words 12   Do a number, to get mad; make a scene; to tell somebody off; blow your cool.
1972   N.Y. Times Mag. 24 Sept. 93   There were about four or five cats doing a number on (beating hell out of) a Puerto Rican.
1974   Maclean's Nov. 19   I was on my own among male relatives, male bosses, male lovers who were all, at one time or another, doing numbers on me.
1982   S. Bellow Dean's December iv. 63   They did a number on Ridpath. They printed damaging statements.
1991   N. Baker U & I vii. 118   When Ada finally did arrive, Updike did such a number on it in his review that he felt compelled to explain..that he writes faster than he reads.
2002   Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (Electronic ed.) 6 Dec.   Navigating bumpy dirt tracks and completing hairpin turns often does a number on shocks, tires, belts and other parts.

1968—2002(Hide quotations)

 

 b. colloquial. to do a —— number and variants: to behave in the specified manner (frequently with the implication of predictable or habitual behaviour).

1968   R. Gover JC Saves 20   Soon's somebody say boo at 'em [sc. the police], gonna be doin they main number [i.e. shooting at people].
1970   J. Didion Play it as it Lays ix. 42   We've been through this... We've done this number about fifty times.
1980   R. Rhodes Last Safari i. ii. 41   She did the garden-club number and the social number and she wasn't interested in his work.
1991   F. Cooper Jay Loves Lucy 124   We had this godawful evening... We did this whole fury number: I was pissed as a fart..and I just threw the lot at her.

1968—1991(Hide quotations)

 

 c. colloquial (chiefly U.S.). to do (also pull, run) a number : to trick or cheat; to deceive. Usually with on.

1971   N.Y. Times Mag. 6 June 95/1   To do a number: To affect someone, with the implication that it's in some devious manner.
1983   E. L. Sturz Widening Circles 9   He's running a number on us!
1992   N. Cohn Heart of World 77   The numbers we did. The scams we pulled.
1995   N.Y. Times Bk. Rev. 5 Mar. 17   Mr Palliser, who has already double-crossed the mystery genre, is now seen to be pulling a number on narrative and interpretation in general.

1971—1995(Hide quotations)

 

 d. colloquial (chiefly U.S.) to do one's number : to perform one's required or expected role; ‘to do one's stuff’.

[1970   Current Slang (Univ. S. Dakota) 4 iii.–iv. 17   Don't do your number, to desist; (command).]
1978   C. James in Observer 11 June 23/2   I watched a computerised gantry-mill do its complex number with very few human beings present.
1985   New Yorker 11 Nov. 86/2   Lawyers have a vaudeville turn of phrase; they talk about going into court and ‘doing their number’.
1991   Times 14 Feb. 23/1   Then I went to Australia, got off the plane desperately ill and found that the gall bladder had done its number.

1978—1991(Hide quotations)

 

Compounds

 C1. With first element in singular form.
 a. General attributive.
 (a) (In sense 1a.)
 

  number-word   n.

1924   R. M. Ogden tr. K. Koffka Growth of Mind v. 334   Many peoples use other number-words [Ger. Zahlwörter] in counting than the ones they use in naming sums.
1937   A. Smeaton tr. R. Carnap Logical Syntax Lang. v. lxxvii. 297   ‘Moon’ is a thing-word..; ‘five’ is not a thing-word, but a number-word.
1991   Sci. Amer. Aug. 93/3   Such mathematical ideas are set out here in six chapters. They open with number words and symbols.

1924—1991(Hide quotations)

 
 

  number-work n.

1911   S. S. Colvin Learning Process iii. 51   Much of it might function equally well for the reading habit, or the number-work habit.
1962   Listener 15 Mar. 469/2   Earlier attempts to teach ‘number work’ are premature and cannot lead beyond the learning of meaningless rules.
1984   V. Day in Listener 19 Apr. 37/1   They are becoming used increasingly..for teaching the first and most basic subjects (numberwork, letter recognition, etc.).

1911—1984(Hide quotations)

 
 (b) (In sense 2.)
 

  number continuum   n.

1897   B. Russell in Mind 6 328   The graduated infinite series of fractions, called the number continuum, has meaning only when applied to a matter divisible ad lib.
1941   Jrnl. Philos. 38 520   Points may be derived either by some method of abstraction.., or recourse may be had to the number-continuum.
1988   Amer. Sociol. Rev. 53 922/2   The scale could be interpreted either as a 201-point extended rating scale or as a number continuum.

1897—1988(Hide quotations)

 
 

  number series   n.

1890   W. James Princ. Psychol. II. xxviii. 653   Little by little in our minds the number-series is formed.
1953   A. Madwed Proc. Symp. Nonlinear Circuit Anal. 320 (title)    Numerical analysis by the number series transformation method.
1985   Jrnl. Theoret. Biol. 112 667   The population of terminal branches increases in the course of time following the Fibonacci number series.

1890—1985(Hide quotations)

 
 

  number system   n.

1924   R. M. Ogden tr. K. Koffka Growth of Mind v. 332   Max Wertheimer has investigated the kind of ideas employed by men who do not possess our developed number-system, in tasks where we would use numbers.
1941   G. Birkhoff & S. MacLane Surv. Mod. Algebra i. 9   The integers have one further important property, not characteristically algebraic and not shared by other number systems. This is the well-ordering principle.
1991   Sci. Amer. Aug. 109/1   The Yuki of California felt that their own number system arose from the nature of the human hand.

1924—1991(Hide quotations)

 
 (c) (In sense 4a.)
 

  number book   n.

1869   E. Edwards Free Town Libraries 333   To book-hawking, and especially to the sale of number-books, it [sc. the war] gave an enormous impulse.
1960   G. A. Glaister Gloss. Bk. 278   Number books, books published serially... Each part consisted of two or more sheets stitched together within blue-paper covers.
1963   Eng. Stud. 44 149   But the kind of serialisation..(often called ‘number books’ or ‘subscription books’) was really the issue and sale of a book in separate fascicules..so that the purchaser could..collect the entire work and have it..bound if he so wished.

1869—1963(Hide quotations)

 
 

number business   n. Obsolete

1827   E. Mackenzie Descr. & Hist. Acct. Newcastle II. 729   Mr. M. Brown carried on the number business with great spirit.

1827—1827(Hide quotations)

 

number-carrier   n. Obsolete rare

1919   M. Beer Hist. Brit. Socialism I. ii. ii. 108   He was successively a number-carrier, street bookseller, and editor of a democratic periodical.

1919—1919(Hide quotations)

 
 

number trade   n. Obsolete

1864   Glasgow Herald 11 Apr.   Messrs. J. & J. Forsyth..beg to inform Dealers, Canvassers, and all others connected with the ‘Number Trade’, that they [etc.].

1864—1864(Hide quotations)

 
 b.

  number-average   n. Chemistry an average of some parameter of the molecules of a mixture calculated as an arithmetic mean with each individual molecule contributing equally, regardless of size; frequently attributive.

1935   Jrnl. Physical Chem. 39 165   For heterogeneous materials, different methods for determining molecular weights give different ‘average’ values. Thus, it may be shown that freezing point, osmotic pressure, and end-group methods, when applied properly to an ideal mixture, result in an average value defined by the expression Mn = 1/Σ (fi/Mi) where fi is the fractional weight of the constituent of molecular weight Mi in the mixture, and the summation is to be applied to all constituents present. This average may be designated as a ‘number-average molecular weight’.
1955   Jrnl. Polymer Sci. 17 263   Number average degrees of polymerization are used to calculate the rates of initiation and transfer in vinyl polymerizations, and the extent of reaction in polycondensations.
1991   Progress Polymer Sci. 16 115   The number-average molecular weight (Mn) increases in direct proportion to monomer conversion.

1935—1991(Hide quotations)

 

  number board   n. a board on which numbers are displayed.

1857   W. Arthur Successful Merchant 182   Close by the number board, he placed another board laden with penny pieces.
1938   G. H. Sewell Amateur Film-making v. 54   That [sc. numbering each shot] is done by exposing before each shot a Number Board.
1993   Guardian 23 Aug. ii. 4/4   I found myself transported back to the Hippodromes of my youth with their illuminated number-boards, their bedizened chorines.

1857—1993(Hide quotations)

 

  number cloth   n. Horse Racing the cloth bearing a horse's number in a race.

1924   E. Wallace Educated Evans vi. 131   Catskin was the one horse..that Educated Evans would have recognized without colours and number-cloth.
1975   D. Francis High Stakes i. 5   People..carrying out saddles and number cloths for the next steeplechase.

1924—1975(Hide quotations)

 

  number-engaged adj. denoting a sound indicating to a caller that the telephone number dialled is engaged.

1959   H. Hobson Mission House Murder xiv. 92   The phone..has been giving the number-engaged signal for over half an hour.

1959—1959(Hide quotations)

 

  number form   n. the shapes into which series of numbers are formed in a person's mental imagery.

1881   F. Galton in Fortn. Rev. 1 June 729   The lowest order of phenomena that admit of being classed as visions, are the ‘Number forms’ to which I have drawn attention on more than one occasion.
1936   Brit. Jrnl. Educ. Psychol. 6 60   The main object of the investigation..was to find if the presence of number forms is correlated to any significant degree with arithmetical ability.
1963   Listener 28 Mar. 547/1   Some people, whenever they think about numbers, picture them in a spatial arrangement... The experiences are called number forms.

1881—1963(Hide quotations)

 

  number game   n. U.S. slang = sense 2e.

1928   Washington Post 10 Nov. 1/2   He and Smith had been partners in the conduct of a lottery known as the ‘number game’.
1930   Penn. Superior Court Rep. 98 438   The court below committed no error in holding that the ‘number game’..constituted an illegal lottery.
1944   North Eastern Reporter 2nd Ser. 50 121   In a prosecution for operating a ‘number game’ as a game of chance for money in violation of ordinance, there must be proof that a number game is such a game or scheme of chance or gambling in absence of statute or ordinance recognizing the number game as being in such classification.

1928—1944(Hide quotations)

 

  number line   n. Mathematics a graduated line representing the ordered set of real numbers (sometimes only the set of integers or natural numbers), used esp. to illustrate simple numerical concepts and operations.

1964   E. J. Swenson Teaching Arithm. to Children v. 99/1   When number lines are introduced to children, they should come in as a representation of a problem situation.
1968   P. J. Murphy & A. F. Kempf New Math. made Simple ii. 36   Since addition and subtraction are inverse operations, we expect subtraction to be associated with moving to the left on a number line.
1992   M. Field & M. Golubitsky Symmetry in Chaos v. 130   The real number line may be viewed as the horizontal x-axis in the complex plane.

1964—1992(Hide quotations)

 
 

  number-man   n.  (a) a man who sells weekly or monthly publications (obsolete);  (b) U.S. slang = numbers man n. at Compounds 2b.

1813   in Notes & Queries (1905) 28 Jan. 66/2   Those subscribers..who choose to be accommodated with the Apocrypha may now be supplied by giving orders to the..Number-men.
1866   J. Blackwood Let. 21 Dec. in ‘G. Eliot’ Lett. (1956) IV. 321   The ‘Number Men’, i.e. men who sell the weekly and monthly publications in large numbers.
1932   Baltimore Brevities 23 Nov. 11/3   The number man whose initials are J. K. is due for a big pull-in soon unless he stops putting his clients' dough in his pockets.
1950   H. E. Goldin Dict. Amer. Underworld Lingo 146   Number-man, anyone engaged in the policy numbers racket.

1813—1950(Hide quotations)

 
 

  number opera   n. an opera in which the arias and other sections are clearly separable.

1947   A. Einstein Music Romantic Era x. 117   Even a musician so retrospective as Louis Spohr could not help abandoning the number-opera towards the end of his career.
1958   Listener 24 July 141/3   ‘Die Zaubergeige’, for example, is a ‘number opera’ whose folkish tunes stem from popular Bavarian art.
1998   N.Y. Times 23 Aug. ar27/4   ‘The Rake's Progress’ is a sincere homage to the 18th-century ‘number opera’, in which the music unfolds in a numbered series of arias, ensembles and choruses.

1947—1998(Hide quotations)

 

  number-plate   n. a plate bearing a number, or series of numbers; spec. the registration plate of a motor vehicle.

1869   Good Words Mar. 170/2   The white porcelain number-plates upon the doors.
1901   Motor-Car World Apr. 74/1   We greatly fear that the number-plate is coming.
1973   P. Evans Bodyguard Man viii. 67   He..scooped up a handful of dirt from the roadside and rubbed it on to the rear number-plate until it became nearly illegible.
1988   Which? Car Buying Guide 4/2   The combined cost of delivery and number plates has ranged from nothing..to over £300.

1869—1988(Hide quotations)

 

  number portability   n. Telecommunications a facility which enables customers to transfer from one from one telephone company to another without having to change their telephone number.

1988   Network World (Nexis) 4 Apr. 3   Number portability will allow users to choose any exchange for their 800 numbers or retain the ones they have, regardless of the carrier they choose for service.
1999   Evening Post (Bristol) (Electronic ed.) 14 Dec.   The introduction of number portability, where customers can keep their old number even if they change networks, has made it easier to swap to the most cost-effective network.

1988—1999(Hide quotations)

 

  number runner   n. U.S. slang = numbers runner n. at Compounds 2b.

1933   Brevities (N.Y.) 10 Apr. 16/2   The Tax Commissioner of the county..has a hand in the prosecution of number runners.
1966   G. Parks Choice of Weapons xx. 213   I got to know number runners and their hangouts.
1994   P. Baker Blood Posse vi. 74   The number runners, shylocks, pimps, and petty hustlers sought protection from the gangs.

1933—1994(Hide quotations)

 
 

  number sign   n.  (a) a symbol or character representing a number; a numeral;  (b) the hash sign, #.

1892   Amer. Anthropologist 5 299   He repeats..much the same process he used in devising four; that is, places an I before the last number-sign (X, or ten) to indicate one less than, next to, or before it; that is, nine.
1951   Christian Sci. Monitor 1 Sept. 14/5   I add the number sign (#) as a special eye-catcher.
1998   D. Bellos et al. tr. G. Ifrah Universal Hist. Numbers xix. 240/1   In serto, however, as in Nestorian, letters have been used (and still are used) as number signs.
2004   Writer Apr. 14/3   If you send an e-mail using mime and your recipient doesn't use mime, the message may become garbled, turning number signs, quotes and other symbols into gobbledygook.

1892—2004(Hide quotations)

 

  number-unobtainable adj. denoting a sound indicating to a caller that the telephone number dialled is unobtainable for a reason other than its being engaged.

1930   Gloss. Terms Telegraphs & Telephones (B.S.I.) 47/1   Number-unobtainable tone.
1969   ‘D. Rutherford’ Gilt-edged Cockpit viii. 148   He listened..to the high whine of the ‘number unobtainable’ signal, knowing that she had left the receiver off.
1984   J. Dunlop & D. G. Smith Telecommunications Engin. x. 320   Note that if an unallowed number is dialled, or service to the number dialled has been discontinued, number-unobtainable tone is returned to the caller.

1930—1984(Hide quotations)

 
 C2. With first element in plural form (chiefly in sense 2e).
 a.
 

  numbers business   n.

1934   Sun (Baltimore) 25 Aug. 1/2   Hawkins..identified himself as a ‘pay-off man’ in the ‘numbers business’.

1934—1934(Hide quotations)

 
 

  numbers racket   n.

1934   N.Y. Times 23 Mar. 10/6   The numbers or lottery racket which had its headquarters in Passaic brought its operators $10,000 a week.
1959   Listener 28 May 924/2   I wonder how many people now remember that prominent feature of American life in the 'thirties—the numbers racket.
1985   J. Kelman Chancer (1987) 131   Got to give your bets to the fucking barber! Numbers racket, said John.

1934—1985(Hide quotations)

 
 

  numbers racketeer   n.

1946   M. Mezzrow & B. Wolfe Really Blues xii. 226   The professions of..numbers racketeer, day laborer, pimp, stevedore.
1999   Mail on Sunday 26 Sept. 116/5   That sentiment would have been warmly endorsed by the two men whom King killed in his days as a numbers racketeer.

1946—1999(Hide quotations)

 
 b.

  numbers drop   n. U.S. rare a session of betting at numbers.

1968   P. Oliver Screening Blues iv. 134   The policy writers and numbers runners who took the bet by a rapid code of signals in the street or at the ‘numbers drop’ would urge them to play other numbers and at higher stakes.

1968—1968(Hide quotations)

 

  numbers game   n.  (a) U.S. slang = sense 2e;  (b) colloquial the practice of adducing statistics, esp. in support of an argument.

1935   Time 21 Jan. 45/1   In Danville, Va., operators of a ‘numbers’ game were bankrupt.
1961   Nation 11 Nov. 365-7   Squabbles over election procedures, the complicated numbers game that East and West played.
1971   A. Hailey Wheels xiv. 205   Playing the numbers game—especially in auto plants—is, to Detroiters, as natural as breathing.
1999   F. McCourt 'Tis l. 443   Her boyfriend, Louis Weber..was famous for running the numbers game in the neighbourhood.

1935—1999(Hide quotations)

 

  numbers man   n.  (a) U.S. slang a person involved in the running of a numbers game;  (b) colloquial a person who is responsible for financial matters, or who is adept with or who lays great emphasis upon figures or statistics.

1964   O. Harrington in J. H. Clarke Harlem 90   Nobody covers as much Harlem territory as the numbers man.
1985   T. Ferguson Onyx John vii. 187   He blackmailed and hijacked and extorted. For years, the police had considered him to be a minor pimp and a numbers man.
1987   R. Hall Kisses of Enemy (1989) xiii. 161   Numbers-men from all thirteen parties went mum, eyes darting frantic signals to their minorities to cool it for fear of losing their seats.
1998   C. Barker Galilee i. 5   Jefferson the great rationalist, the numbers man, obliged to believe the evidence of his own eyes.

1964—1998(Hide quotations)

 

  numbers runner   n. U.S. slang a person collecting the bets of those playing numbers.

1952   R. Ellison Invisible Man xxiii. 367   And yet, I thought, watching a numbers runner paying off a bet, this is one place that the Brotherhood definitely penetrated.
1979   E. Hardwick Sleepless Nights iv. 52   Judith has been accused more times than a numbers runner.
2000   N.Y. Mag. 3 Apr. 21/1   Jewel-encrusted pinkie rings, once limited to numbers runners and Rat Packers, have been glistening lately on the fashionable fingers of Jennifer Lopez and Lil'Kim.

1952—2000(Hide quotations)

 
 C3.

 a. Prefixed to a numeral, as number six, number 42, etc., for the purpose of designating things or persons by the place assigned to them in an arithmetical series. Also as adj. Frequently as postmodifier. Cf. No. n.2, Numb. n.1

[a1393   J. Gower Confessio Amantis (Fairf.) vii. 1186   Of Signes in the nombre ellevene Aquarius hath take his place.]
1691   R. Ames Farther Search after Claret 3   Has any one been here to ask Number Four?
1707   J. Mortimer Whole Art Husbandry (1721) I. 162   Sometimes the best Madder is worth eight or nine Pounds a hundred, and the Number O six Pound Ten Shillings.
1710   J. Swift Jrnl. to Stella 15 Sept. (1948) I. 19   I forgot to mark my two former letters; but I remember this is Number 3.
1837   C. Dickens Pickwick Papers xxv. 266   I should just like to ask you,..vether you don't con-sider yourself as nice and vell-behaved a young gen'lm'n as ever used..the number four collection?
1867   F. E. Trollope Mabel's Progress III. 5   It is hard to say..why this especial house should have been Number Nine at all, seeing there were to be but six houses in the row.
1895   W. Carleton Rhymes of our Planet 9   Genevieve, how oft it comes to me—That rather young old reading-class, in District Number Three!
1938   S. Beckett Murphy v. 95   A staple recreation..had been to wait at Walham Green for a nice number eleven [bus] and take it through the evening rush to Liverpool Street and back.
1977   World of Cricket Monthly June 50/2   The beefy Bruce Groves was one of the surprise successes of the season, batting at number three.
1988   Artist's &Illustrator's Feb. 20/1   All my painting is done with number 3 or 4 sable brushes.

1691—1988(Hide quotations)

 
 

 b. Prefixed to a series of numerals in recounting a sequence of arguments, instructions, etc.; number one: firstly, most importantly, for a start.

1871   ‘L. Carroll’ Through Looking-glass i. 4   I'm going to tell you all your faults. Number one: you squeaked twice when Dinah was washing your face this morning... Number two: you pulled Snowdrop away by the tail.
1984   J. Didion Democracy (1985) v. 86   Don't ask, number one, how Wendell Omura happens to be on Janet's lanai.
1997   ‘Q’ Deadmeat 385   That is real dangerous, because number one, they can build up the children's confidence over time, groom them, number two, the child will never suspect they are in danger.

1871—1997(Hide quotations)

 

 c. Originally Military. Prefixed to a numeral, as number one, number two, etc., designating progressively longer haircuts.

1925   E. Fraser & J. Gibbons Soldier & Sailor Words 211   At an inspection, for instance, an officer would tell a man, whose hair seemed too long, to ‘Get a Number One before next Parade’.
1982   N. Knight Skinhead 20   The hairstyle would be a number two or three crop with feathered fringes all round.
1991   A. Beevor Inside Brit. Army (rev. ed.) Gloss. 504   Number three haircut, standard haircut, as opposed to a Number one, which is shearing ‘right down to the wood’.

1925—1991(Hide quotations)

 
 d.

  number eight   n.  (a) Rugby Union the player in the back row of a scrum, behind the lock forwards; this position;  (b) New Zealand standard 4mm gauge wire, originally used in fencing and later for other purposes (often with the implication of inventiveness); frequently attributive, esp. in number eight (fencing) wire ; cf. No. eight n. at No. adv.3 and n.2 Compounds.

1952   R. K. Stent Fourth Springboks 1951–2 iii. 30   Originally a centre three-quarter, Pickard went into the scrum (as a number eight).
1960   E. S. Higham & W. J. Higham High Speed Rugby 154   The Number 8 (back row loose forward)..combines, as far as possible, the duties of second row in the scrum and the flanks outside the scrum.
1973   P. Wilson N.Z. Jack 27   Then eventually we made barbs for our harpoons, by cutting a length of Number Eight wire from some farm fence.
1992   B. Anderson Portrait Artist's Wife 33   Squatting on his heels he coiled it and held it up. ‘It's only a bit of old number eight.’

1952—1992(Hide quotations)

 

  number nine   n. Military slang a laxative pill frequently prescribed in the armed forces as a cure-all for minor illnesses or doubtful symptoms.

1916   Anzac Bk. 110   And should my health appear to fail And appetite grow fine, My doctor hands me—not a bill, But just a Number 9.
1935   G. Blake Shipbuilders xi. 339   If that wound's not healed by to-morrow it's M. and D. for you. And a Number Nine.
1946   J. Irving Royal Navalese 123   Number-nine Boatswain, the Warrant Wardmaster. As ‘King of the Sick Berth Staff’ this allusion to the No. 9 pill is not inappropriate.

1916—1946(Hide quotations)

 
 

  number ten adj. and n.  (a) adj. Military slang (usually in form number ten), (originally in context of the Korean War and, in later use, the Vietnam War) very bad, terrible, rotten;  (b) n. (usually in form Number Ten), Number 10 Downing Street, the official London home of the British Prime Minister; also (by metonymy) denoting the British Prime Minister or the British Government.

1953   in E. Partridge Dict. Slang (ed. 6) Suppl. 1201/1   The various degrees in the state of a soldier's feelings in Korea are seldom expressed in the well-worn favourites of World War II. He is rarely ‘browned off’... No sir. He's just ‘number one’ to ‘number ten’.
1958   L. Durrell Mountolive iv. 86   Even in the rain there was the usual little cluster of tourists and loungers outside the gates of Number Ten.
1991   Economist 7 Dec. 38/1   The impression from Number Ten is that Mr Major had expected that a tough British position would produce..concessions.
1995   G. L. Steinbrook Allies & Mates 71   You cheap Charlie, number 10 GI, number 10,000 GI.

1953—1995(Hide quotations)

 

  number two pencil   n. U.S. = No. 2 pencil n. at No. 2 n. Compounds.

1977   Washington Post 7 Aug. (Potomac section) 25/1   If you hope to go to college next year, you will have to give up a Saturday morning, take a number two pencil and, with the eraser end, break the seal on the Scholastic Aptitude Test.
1999   Village Voice (N.Y.) 10 Aug. 125/1   Everybody has access to a number two pencil, not everyone will be able to use a computer.

1977—1999(Hide quotations)