Consider this problem, derived from these Japanese phrases: boru niko (two balls), tsuna nihon (two ropes), uma nito (two horses), kami nimai (two sheets of paper), ashi gohon (five legs), ringo goko (five apples), sara gomai (five plates) and kaba goto (five hippos). How do you say “nine cucumbers”? Kyuri kyuhon, kyuri kyuko, kyuri kyuhiki or kyuri kyuto?
If that fires you up, you are probably not only a language-lover but a puzzle-solver, with the type of intellect that thrills not only to cryptic crosswords but to sudoku or brainteasers like the matchbox riddle. And Alex Bellos, who has the delightful job of “puzzle columnist” at the Guardian, has a book for you: The Language Lover’s Puzzle Book.
It begins with the Japanese conundrum above, and takes readers through a host of linguistic games that will stretch their minds in ways most were not aware they could be stretched.
About those Japanese cucumbers, unless you know a language that behaves similarly, like Chinese, you may not have thought to consider the shape of the objects being counted. In Japanese, this is integrated into the numbers themselves.