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Tally marks, or hash marks, are a unary numeral system. They are a form of numeral used for counting. They are most useful in counting or tallying ongoing results, such as the score in a game or sport, as no intermediate results need to be erased or discarded. However, because of the length of large numbers, tallies are not commonly used for static text. Notched sticks, known as tally sticks, were also historically used for this purpose.
Tally marks are typically clustered in groups of five for legibility. The cluster size 5 has the advantages of (a) easy conversion into decimal for higher arithmetic operations and (b) avoiding error, as humans can far more easily correctly identify a cluster of 5 than one of 10.
In the dot and line (or dot-dash) tally, dots represent counts from 1 to 4, lines 5 to 8, and diagonal lines 9 and 10. This method is commonly used in forestry and related fields.
- Hsieh, Hui-Kuang (1981) "Chinese tally mark", The American Statistician, 35 (3), p. 174, doi:10.2307/2683999
- Schenck, Carl A. (1898) Forest mensuration. The University Press. (Note: The linked reference appears to actually be "Bulletin of the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station", Number 302, August 1916)