Is there a good Latin word for a digit or figure? I might want to say that the sum of the digits of 43 is 7 or that an actor was paid a six-figure salary for a movie. It occurred to me that I don't know any suitable word for this in Latin. (In Finnish the corresponding word would be "numero", whereas a number would be "luku".)

The Arabic numbers were introduced to Latin too late for there to be much hope to have a suitable word in classical Latin. The concept of a digit is less meaningfull for numbers like LXXVII (that would be a disappointing six-figure salary!), but perhaps there might be a word for a single symbol in a number. I pose no era restrictions; I would like to have a word for modern uses like my examples above.

The obvious suspect digitus seems to be inappropriate, at least in classical Latin. This word might require other words to disambiguate from fingers and toes.

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    Just unsourced opinion:1) I think there's no special word for $f(43)=7$ before the X cent.: the positional system (and no. 0) become known in Europe by that time 2) You could add the IV in XL with the III, but I don't think it is intuitive. 3) Some Mediterranean numerical systems used letters w/values as well, and there are examples of numerology (adding the letters in a name to form a number, etc. e.g. Sixtus=i+x+v=16) 4) I think littera could be understandable even if not optimal, as in summa literarum (nominis/numeris)
    – Rafael
    Commented Aug 28, 2017 at 12:11

1 Answer 1


As you say, the concept of digits is only meaningful if you are using Indian/Arabic numbers. These became known in Latin Europe by the 12th century, and with them the use of “digitus” for the numbers from 0 to 9. This usage is not classical, but it is of respectable antiquity.

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