Big Numbers and On Readings

So, this is related to the special-case numbers like 四 (4), where the on reading し (shi) is the same as death (死), so often the kun reading よん (yon, shortened form of よっつ (yottsu)) is used instead.
Why does it seem like this isn’t the case for larger numbers, where instead there’s apparently a single, strictly correct reading?
四十 (40) is always よんじゅう (yonjuu) and never しじゅう (shijuu),
四百 (400) is always よんひゃく (yonhyaku) and never しひゃく (shihyaku).
And likewise for 七十 (70) and 九十 (90), which are always ななじゅう (nanajuu) and きゅうじゅう (kyujuu), never しちじゅう (shichijuu) and くじゅう (kujuu).

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Can’t really give you a reason other than that’s the way the language evolved :o

Here’s a few quotes from a Tofugu article on Japanese numbers:

In modern Japanese, the Wago version is usually only used through the first ten numbers. Kango is used from 1 to… forever, theoretically.

Note: Numbers 40–49 are almost always read as よんじゅう and not しじゅう. Occasionally you’ll hear an elderly person use しじゅう when talking about their age. You’ll also occasionally hear idioms and phrases from older times that use the しじゅう reading. For example, 四十肩 (しじゅうかた) means “frozen shoulder.” 四十九日 (しじゅうくにち) refers to the 49th day after one’s death—a special day in Japanese Buddhism. And 四十七士 (しじゅうしちし) refers to the 47 loyal retainers of the Akō Domain. There’s more, but you get the idea. Using しじゅう is considered archaic, but you may still run across it from time to time.

Note: The 七十s are almost always read ななじゅう. You may hear older people use しちじゅう, but it’s not very common.

Note #1: The 九十s are almost always read as きゅうじゅう. The main exception to this is with certain location names, such as 九十九里浜 (くじゅうくりはま).
Note #2: くじゅう is a homophone of 苦汁, which means “bitter soup” and figuratively means “hard time” or “bitter experience.” 苦渋, another homophone of くじゅう, means “deeply troubled” or “distressed.” You can understand why most people would want to say きゅうじゅう instead of くじゅう.


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