Word of the day: arithmomania

I learned a new word today: arithmomania, which means a compulsive desire to count things.

I found this word on Wikipedia, where I was reading about vampires. Among the practices used to keep vampires from emerging from their graves, people would sprinkle poppy seeds, millet, or sand over a grave. They believed that the vampire would stop to count these many small objects and, consequently, would not leave the graveyard.

I was instantly reminded of Count von Count, a character on Sesame Street. To help children learn their numbers, this Count would always stop to count things. He had a pale face, pointed teeth, and a long black cape—indeed, he was based on Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of Count Dracula. The joke that Count von Count loved to count was one of the many amusing things the writers of Sesame Street inserted into their educational programming for their own benefit and for that of parents and other guardians who had to sit through such programs with their children.

It is, of course, possible that the creators of Sesame Street knew about the European custom of tricking vampires into counting small objects in the cemeteries. It is more likely that they were unaware of the custom and simply liked joking about the title Count. It is even possible that the sentences attributing arithmomania to vampires are a prank that someone added to the Wikipedia entry. One can never be sure. J.