- 1. one
- 1 (tied). ten
- 3. nine
- 4. two
- 5. four
- 6. three
- 6 (tied). seven
- 6 (tied). nineteen
- 9. eight
- 9 (tied). eleven
- 11. five
- 11 (tied). six
- 13. thirteen
- 13 (tied). fourteen
- 15. twelve
- 15 (tied). seventeen
- 15 (tied). eighteen
- 15 (tied). twenty
- 19. zero
- 19 (tied). fifteen
- 21. sixteen
Notes On Methodology, which is always the fun part: phone numbers which had the area code changed under them are counted multiple times. The phone numbers I had my first three years as an undergraduate are not included because I don’t remember what they are either. My fourth year as an undergraduate I didn’t get a phone because I figured I could just use the phone for the unread campus weekly I spent all my time working on anyway. The phone number I had when I lived in Singapore is counted too, with the area code of ‘6’ because when I was there there was one area code, ‘6’, for land-line and another area code, ‘8’, for mobile phones and don’t you just love a single-digit area code? Anyway the country code of ’65’ isn’t included because I don’t think it’s fair to include that as part of the phone number. Also I never really felt sure I knew what I was doing dialing internationally back then but I loved putting a ‘+65’ in front of my phone number the couple times I had to share it with anyone then. I once had the phone number 266-0001 and that was great except if I ordered something delivered they thought my callback number was a fake. Also I kept getting calls from the rent-to-own-scam place from someone who gave them a fake number for a couch. I liked the number anyway.
When I was barely old enough to understand any of the editorial page writers, I understood and loved Art Buchwald’s Thanksgiving-Explained-To-French-People essay. The love’s stayed with me. A good nonsense explanation is maybe perfectly fitted to my attitudes. I love learning things, and yet, I love seeing the form of exposition smashed and scattered about and rebuilt into gibberish. It’s a tough mode to get right. It needs to have a strong enough factual backbone that the piece has the grammar of explanations. But it also needs a strong enough whimsical and absurdist backbone to carry the reader through.
How To Write Out Numbers, from April 2014, is one of my attempts at this that I’m happy with. In it I get to blend my love of mathematics with my deep interest in copy editing and standard-setting. I know what sort of person this makes me, but maybe you’ll also like it. If you don’t, that’s all right. We still probably have some things we can talk about.
I’m a know-it-all. By this I mean simply that I assume you have an opinion about David Rice Atchison, and whatever it is I am prepared to argue that you are wrong. It’s amazing that I don’t spend more time running away from people meaning to slap me. But I credit that for my always loving the mock-explanatory essay. I love the real things, certainly, but the humorist who can capture the rhythms of explanation while producing nonsense — well, that’s wonderful. Robert Benchley in My Ten Years In A Quandary And How They Grew provides one of the most perfect examples of this. From the fourth paragraph on there’s barely a misfired word or a weak sentence, and the first three paragraphs are a good warming up. The antepenultimate paragraph alone is worth learning what “antepenultimate” means.
The Word “Three”
I don’t know whether you care or not, but etymological circles are in an uproar. They have just discovered what the word “three” comes from.
They have known the derivation of all the other words in the number-table (as, for example, “two” from “Tuesday,” or the second day in the week if you don’t count Sunday as the first, and “five” from the god Woden, or Thor, or Buttercup, and so forth and so forth), but they have never been able to figure out where the word “three” came from.
A little fellow from the University of Welf discovered it. He doesn’t speak English himself, but he is awfully interested in people who do. It was during one of these periods (I should have told you that he has periods when he looks up words) that he found out about the word “three.” He was looking up the word “tree” and, not speaking English well, he thought that it was pronounced “three.” You can see how that might very well be.
The word “three” comes to us direct from the French, collect. The original word was (and still is) tri, which means a sorting, or, as in card-playing, a deal. Thus, one would say: “Give me a tri,” or “How is your tri?” meaning “Give me a deal” or “How is your deal?” If one were really speaking in French, of course, all the other words in the sentence would be French, too. (i.e., “Donnez-moi un tri” or “Votre tri, ça marche?”)
Just how the word tri got into the French language is a mystery which occupies practically nobody’s attention at the moment. It is supposed to have come from the Creole patois of New Orleans, and was used to signify hurry or lethargy. The old form of the word was blo, which gradually was shortened into tri. Later the whole word was dropped from the language by a rising vote.
The Normans brought the word into England just before the Norman Conquest. In their use of it an extra syllable was added, making it triouille, meaning white-bait or Roger crab. We still are no nearer than we were to finding out how it came to mean three of anything. Don’t think that I’m not just as worried as you are.
With the advent of water-power and the subsequent water-pistol, Luke (Luke was the fellow I was speaking of a few yards back) didn’t know what to do. Unless I am greatly mistaken, this paragraph belongs in another article.
Well, anyway, the people who are making up the English language found themselves with names for every digit except “three.” And, as there were three of quite a lot of things (Marx Brothers, blind mice, wishes and cent stamps) it got increasingly embarrassing not to have a word to express “three.” They tried using the word “four,” but it ended only in confusion, especially when addition or subtraction was at stake.
Suddenly someone said: “Why don’t we take the word tri from the French? They’ll never miss it, and they owe it to us anyway.” This seemed like a logical plan, and everybody but one man agreed to it. He later committed suicide when he found out how successfully it had worked out. “I was a blind fool,” he wrote.
As it sounded rather common to say tri, they put in an h and substituted a double e for the i. This made as pretty a “three” as you could wish, and from that day on it was a part of the language. They tried it out in a little rhyme: “One-two-three—buckle my shoe,” and it went so well that soon everybody was saying it.
Frankly, I don’t know whether I like it as a word or not. It still sounds a little slangy.
Rome’s city council has decided to phase out the use of Roman numerals on street signs, official documents, identity cards, and the like. This is being done to standardize and simplify the numerical system in use. This brings a neat bit of timeliness to this Robert Benchley essay collected in Love Conquers All.
WHEN NOT IN ROME, WHY DO AS THE ROMANS DID?
There is a growing sentiment among sign painters that when a sign or notice is to be put up in a public place it should be written in characters that are at least legible, so that, to quote The Manchester Guardian (as every one seems to do) “He who runs may read.”
This does not strike one as being an unseemly pandering to popular favor. The supposition is that the sign is put there to be read, otherwise it would have been turned over to an inmate of the Odd Fellows Home to be engraved on the head of a pin. And what could be a more fair requirement than that it should be readable?
Advertising, with its billboard message of rustless screens and co-educational turkish-baths, has done much to further the good cause, and a glance through the files of newspapers of seventy-five years ago, when the big news story of the day was played up in diamond type easily deciphered in a strong light with the naked eye, shows that news printing has not, to use a slang phrase, stood still.
But in the midst of this uniform progress we find a stagnant spot. Surrounded by legends that are patent and easy to read and understand, we find the stone-cutter and the architect still putting up tablets and cornerstones, monuments and cornices, with dates disguised in Roman numerals. It is as if it were a game, in which they were saying, “The number we are thinking of is even; it begins with M; it has five digits and when they are spread out, end to end, they occupy three feet of space. You have until we count to one hundred to guess what it is.”
Roman numerals are all right for a rainy Sunday afternoon or to take a convalescent’s mind from his illness, but to put them in a public place, where the reader stands a good chance of being run over by a dray if he spends more than fifty seconds in their perusal, is not in keeping with the efficiency of the age. If for no other reason than the extra space they take, involving more marble, more of the cutter’s time and wear and tear on his instruments, not to mention the big overhead, you would think that Roman numerals would have been abolished long ago.
Of course, they can be figured out if you’re good at that sort of thing. By working on your cuff and backs of envelopes, you can translate them in no time at all compared to the time taken by a cocoon to change into a butterfly, for instance. All you have to do is remember that “M” stands for either “millium,” meaning thousand, or for “million.” By referring to the context you can tell which is more probable. If, for example, it is a date, you can tell right away that it doesn’t mean “million,” for there isn’t any “million” in our dates. And there is one-seventh or eighth of your number deciphered already. Then “C,” of course, stands for “centum,” which you can translate by working backwards at it, taking such a word as “century” or “per cent,” and looking up what they come from, and there you have it! By this time it is hardly the middle of the afternoon, and all you have before you is a combination of X’s, I’s and an L, the latter standing for “Elevated Railway,” and “Licorice,” or, if you cross it with two little horizontal lines, it stands for the English pound, which is equivalent to about four dollars and eighty-odd cents in real money. Simple as sawing through a log.
But it takes time. That’s the big trouble with it. You can’t do the right thing by the office and go in for Roman numerals, too. And since most of the people who pass such inscriptions are dependent on their own earnings, why not cater to them a bit and let them in on the secret?
Probably the only reason that the people haven’t risen up and demanded a reform along these lines is because so few of them really give a hang what the inscription says. If the American Antiquarian Turn-Verein doesn’t care about stating in understandable figures the date on which the cornerstone of their building was laid, the average citizen is perfectly willing to let the matter drop right there.
But it would never do to revert to Roman numerals in, say, the arrangement of time-tables. How long would the commuter stand it if he had to mumble to himself for twenty minutes and use up the margins of his newspaper before he could figure out what was the next train after the 5:18? Or this, over the telephone between wife and husband:
“Hello, dear! I think I’ll come in town for lunch. What trains can I get?”
“Just a minute—I’ll look them up. Hold the wire…. Let’s see, here’s one at XII:LVIII, that’s twelve, and L is a thousand and V is five and three I’s are three; that makes 12:one thousand…. that can’t be right…. now XII certainly is twelve, and L … what does L stand for?… I say; what—does—L—stand—for?… Well, ask Heima…. What does she say?… Fifty?… Sure, that makes it come out all right…. 12:58…. What time is it now?… 1 o’clock?… Well, the next one leaves Oakam at I:XLIV…. that’s …” etc.
Batting averages and the standing of teams in the leagues are another department where the introduction of Roman numerals would be suicide for the political party in power at the time. For of all things that are essential to the day’s work of the voter, an early enlightenment in the matter of the home team’s standing and the numerical progress of the favorite batsman are of primary importance. This information has to be gleaned on the way to work in the morning, and, except for those who come in to work each day from North Philadelphia or the Croton Reservoir, it would be a physical impossibility to figure the tables out and get any of the day’s news besides.
CLVB BATTING RECORDS
|YOU CAN’T DO RIGHT BY THE OFFICE AND GO IN FOR ROMAN NUMERALS TOO.|
On matters such as these the proletariat would have protested the Roman numeral long ago. If they are willing to let its reactionary use on tablets and monuments stand it is because of their indifference to influences which do not directly affect their pocketbooks. But if it could be put up to them in a powerful cartoon, showing the Architect and the Stone-Cutter dressed in frock coats and silk hats, with their pockets full of money, stepping on the Common People so that he cannot see what is written on the tablet behind them, then perhaps the public would realize how they are being imposed on.
For that there is an organized movement among architects and stone-cutters to keep these things from the citizenry there can no longer be any doubt. It is not only a matter of the Roman numerals. How about the use of the “V” when “U” should be used? You will always see it in inscriptions. “SVMNER BVILDING” is one of the least offensive. Perhaps the excuse is that “V” is more adapted to stone-lettering. Then why not carry this principle out further? Why not use the letter H when S is meant? Or substitute K for B? If the idea is to deceive, and to make it easier for the stone-cutter, a pleasing effect could be got from the inscription, “Erected in 1897 by the Society of Arts and Grafts”, by making it read: “EKEATEW IZ MXIXLXIXLXXII LY THE XNLIEZY OF AEXA ZNL ELAFTX.” There you have letters that are all adapted to stone-cutting; they look well together, and they are, in toto, as intelligible as most inscriptions.
(I drew this from an online source. I haven’t had the energy to track down the original book and see whether that shouldn’t be the Society of Arts and Crafts instead, although I like the G construction. It might not be a joke Benchley meant to make, is all.)
- 41 (July 10)
- 30 (July 3)
- 39 (July 9)
- 37 (July 1)
- 37 (July 6)
- 28 (July 4)
- 25 (July 7)
- 21 (July 5)
- 27 (July 2)
- 23 (July 8)
This means something, but I don’t know what.
- 1. 1
- 1. (tie) 6
- 1. (tie) 10
- 1. (tie) 2
- 5. 5
- 5. (tie) 4
- 5. (tie) 9
- 5. (tie) 0
- 9. 8
- 9. (tie) 7
- 9. (tie) 3
- 12. 11
- 12. (tie) 30
- 12. (tie) 12
- 12. (tie) 20
- 16. 15
- 16. (tie) 16
- 18. 18
- 18. (tie) 14
- 18. (tie) 19
- 18. (tie) 13
- 22. 17
- 23. 21
- 23. (tie) 26
- 23. (tie) 22
- 26. 25
- 26. (tie) 24
- 26. (tie) 29
- 29. 28
- 29. (tie) 27
- 29. (tie) 23
- (1) 17
- (2) 18
- (2) 14
- (2) 19
- (2) 13
- (6) 15
- (6) 16
- (8) 11
- (8) 12
- (8) 20
- (11) 8
- (11) 7
- (11) 3
- (14) 5
- (14) 4
- (14) 9
- (14) 0
- (18) 1
- (18) 6
- (18) 10
- (18) 2
Investigation into this problem revealed that while most people would call the number 100 “one hundred”, there are ambiguities about whether, say, “106” should be “one hundred six”, “a hundred and six”, or “one-oh-six”, and whether it should be “a hundred and thirteen” or “a hundred thirteen” or the like, and therefore different alphabetizations are sensible. Therefore selected alphabetizations are provided for your convenience.
Alphabetical Order (The First)
Alphabetical Order (The Second)
Alphabetical Order (The Third)
I’ve been tracking my statistics around these parts, and the start of a month is a good time to review neurotically how unpopular I am, so, here we go. According to WordPress, the humor blog here had 396 page views in April 2014. That’s down from March’s 468, but it’s still the third-highest monthly total I have on record. There were a relatively meager 167 unique visitors, down from 199, but that means the views per visitor grew imperceptibly from 2.35 to 2.37. That’s also the third-highest views-per-visitor for a month that I have on record, so, that’s something.
312 of the viewers came from the United States this past month, with nine each from Canada and the United Kingdom, and lesser counts from other nations of the world. Sending me a single visitor each were Greece, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Romania, South Korea, Sovenia, and Spain. Pakistan’s the only repeat from last month. Nobody came here from Gambia, the Central African Republic, nor from Turks or Caicos.
The most popular posts this month were:
- Five Astounding Facts About Turbo, That Movie About A Snail in The Indianapolis 500, which really is going to outlast me. I had a friend run across it this month, while he was looking for facts about Turbo for some reason, and he was delighted to find he knew the author.
- The Record Offensive, helped into popularity, I think, because of its captivating central image of parachuted record players and also of the good-quality comments.
- Bunny Snacking, which had some strong appeal to the bunny community, I believe.
- Statistics Saturday: Country Populations Versus What I Thought, which I’m guessing got a lot of people who thought there was actual geography at work in there.
- Quarks of nature, a rare reblogging for me of A Labor Of Like’s writing.
- How To Write Out Numbers, which I dearly hope is being used as someone’s writing guide, but I know isn’t.
Terms that have brought viewers to my blog this past month have included, besides the abundance of Turbo search terms:
- https://nebushumor.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/the-chuckletrousers-decades/ (must be Dave Barry fans in the audience)
- algebra comics april 2014 (good luck)
- nobody ever died for dear old rutgers (they didn’t, either)
- trans dimensional travel (good luck, again)
Here are some rules for writing numbers.
For whole numbers under ten, write them out as words. For ten, 11, and twelve, discuss the matter with your copy editor, engaging in a long-running and frank exchange of typographical views that will, as always, end with at least one of the parties arrested for stuffing a body part into a toaster on the “bagel” setting that is itself stuffed into a composting pit, and might bring in some other parties who will discover they can not believe these other people are allowed to vote or hold sharp objects such as hula hoops. If the argument is not productive enough bring up the matter of zero and what results will surely end with arson. For numbers larger than twelve use digits, as they’re too tedious if given the chance to be words. Exceptions: googol googolplex either neither fimble flumble seizure leisure sixty-four caffeine.
When writing a string of numbers it’s important to alternate between digits and words for clarity, as for example in the famous aircraft being the Boeing “seven40seven” or the less famous aircraft the Boeing “7.thirty.7”. In addition to reading clarity the graphic design potential is powerful, and if you can’t imagine a trendy club writing its address this way you’ve failed graphic design class and probably can’t even recognize Futura when you see it, which doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad person but does mean we’ll have to have someone watching whenever you walk into the campus’s Fine Arts Library.
Percentages should never be referred to in print, as they make the reader suspect this is a word problem and the reader will go off to the bridge column. They may be used in PowerPoint slides only if the percent symbol is animated, rotating around one or two axes but not the third.
Negative numbers require special protection so as not to startle skittish readers. Besides being denoted with a minus sign they should be preceded by a man on foot waving a large red flag, and followed by another man ringing a bell. It is good practice to surround the number in parentheses, in case of spilling, and to be printed in red ink, lest the supply of red ink get noticeably too large. At that, you’ll want to have your copy reviewed by trained professional mathematicians. Do not rely on the untrained kind, as they will try to clean up spilled negative numbers by having them (the numbers) eaten by a goat. Trained professional mathematicians will call in something from accredited accounting ungulates.
Imaginary numbers may be written any old way you like, as the non-mathematical reader thinks you’re just making them up anyway, while the mathematically inclined roll their eyes and sigh knowingly whenever the subject comes up. Really, you probably don’t even have to do that much. Rewrite the sentence to avoid the whole subject, even if you have to change the essay’s subject from the history of polynomials into, oh, lumps of putty.
If you need to pluralize a number go wild and add an apostrophe before the s or es, as in: 7.thirty.7’es. In fact, nobody’s ever lived to regret adding apostrophes where they’re not needed, so, what the heck, toss in something so, like, this year is known as 201’4, or the population of the United States as 317′,84’2,’000. Apostrophes are also cool if you need to omit the part of the number that’s boring. Why not try writing the volume of your refrigerator in cubic inches as 14’82 and leave the reader to work out the omitted numbers for their fun and mental exercise, other than that if the reader finds out where you live they might jab you with an apostrophe in front of the toaster?
Know the difference between ordinal and cardinal numbers! If mixed they will fight until one is stuffed into a toaster and the other sneaks off to make long-distance calls on your land line. In cases of ambiguity remember that cardinal numbers are nearly invariably Rh-positive while ordinal numbers are afraid of bats, owing to the longstanding resentment of ordinal numbers for vampire novels after their manuscripts were rejected.
If you don’t like those rules, try some other ones. That’ll go well.
You know, thinking about it, I can’t figure how monthly calendars are even supposed to work. “I don’t know what day it is, so let me look at a grid of up to 31 days that it might conceivably be. Oh, that helps!” If we advanced this scheme about, say, long division we’d never buy it. “286 divided by 13? Oh, it’s something between 15 and 45 — of course! 22!”
And yet it does work, and I know it works because I’ll put up monthly calendars, sometimes, and not cross off dates as they’ve arrived and I can still work out what day it is from looking at all these options. That can’t happen, so I guess I have to conclude that I don’t exist, which could explain a lot of frustrating interactions I have with the Internet service provider.
I really wanted to use this space to give a couple numbers about my readership for December 2013, but what with my living-ship for December 2013 I don’t have the chance to write that up so it’s actually correct, so, let me offer you this as a little placeholder while I try to catch up:
- More than two-thirds of all numbers between 0 and 1 are greater than one-quarter.
- According to the World Almanac and Book of Facts, in 1945 the United States produced what sure seems like a lot of both iron and steel.
- No number, written in base ten, which ends in seven has ever been successfully sued for plagiarism in a United States civil court.
- I read something like 25 comics through gocomics.com that can’t possibly exist because I have never encountered anyone else who has ever read them even when I’ve pointed out the links to them.
I’m sorry these aren’t very good numbers. It’s the best I can do right now.
You know, now that we have the whole idea of putting money in different denominations on the table, I realize there’s no need to reduce it to powers-of-two the way computer programmers think makes sense. Really any set of relatively prime numbers will do just fine in terms of being able to make amounts of money you really don’t need, because the charge at most convenience stores is $2.92 if you’re there at breakfast time, $11.25 if you’re there in the afternoon or evening picking up a few things, and at the fast food place is pretty much going to be $7.14 for lunch plus another $1.42 if you go back for a McFlurry after.
So since we’re completely free to choose, let me design a set of currency that comes in denominations of 3, 7, 11, 24, 31, and 55 dollars, with additional bills worth negative two, negative thirteen, and negative twenty-nine dollars to make the vending machines happy. That should fix things.
Numbers have been used for things for thousands of years, longer if we count stopping for lunch. But surely the greatest breakthrough was when people started to use numbers for numbers, instead of the other way around. So let’s take a chance to review some interesting and quirky facts about various numbers and avoid the people who make a big fuss about the difference between numbers and numerals.
-20. This the so-called “ambiguous point”, as for negative numbers less than this, it’s clear that “becoming bigger” means a more negative number; while for numbers greater than this, “becoming bigger” might mean becoming more negative or more positive depending on just how quarrelsome the person you’re trying to speak with is being.
-8. According to most historians of mathematics, this is the number which should properly be 0 so as to make the number line work wholly sensibly.
-4. This is of historic importance as -4 was the first expansion number ever to appear in the playoffs, and (three years later) was the first to win. This set off a “gold rush” as people sought easy success in other negative numbers and while the field has proved useful this pioneering number, as so often happens, saw its fortunes dwindle. In 1964 a statewide reorganization merged it with negative 5 and negative pi, but the need to establish a regional snow-clearing plan means that its administrative organization is equivalent to being a separate number in all but legal name.
0.78. Packing fraction for pretty much everything.
1.000000 … 00003. This is the smallest number that’s still larger than 1.
6. This is the average number of days the typical American will lose, per year, to chanting the drum parts of the theme from George of the Jungle. Of course, while you’re busy chanting it the day doesn’t seem lost at all; if anything, it seems to be picking up quite nicely and actually going into the lyrics feels like a mild step down.
4.587. This is a phony number slipped in as a copyright trap by the Hammond World Atlas Corporation. The four was based on a real number (seven), but the digits past the decimal are believed to have been selected by Caleb Stillson Hammond as the sort of whimsy for which he was so well known. It slipped into the regular number line following a famous yet confusing court ruling which determined that whatever Lieutenant Columbo’s first name was, it wasn’t “Lucius”.
8. This is a most popular base for numbers among people who are fans of base eight, such as those who are programming computers in the 1960s. Some adherents insist we should move to base eight, on the grounds of they have reasons, but they overlook the increased property taxes which combined with moving expenses make the prospect wholly uneconomical. Just nod vacantly and scuttle off to some important business, possibly in base five.
16. This is a fascinating number as it records the number of additional years after the invention of the atomic bomb that it required humanity to successfully write the song “On Top Of Spaghetti”.
17.113. The most seventeen-est of numbers, according to a survey of leading mathematics departments who were kidding. There’s just no appreciation for good sarcasm anymore.
18. And this is the number of additional years after the invention of the atomic bomb that it required humanity to successfully record “On Top Of Spaghetti”.
138. This is the smallest number (by avoirdupois weight) to never be used for anything except appearances in lists of numbers with some interesting or uninteresting property to them.
311. This is the number most convincingly prime-like of all the numbers people can’t be bothered to quite figure out whether is prime or not. 313 is a pretty good one too except that one really feels like it ought to be divisible by 17. We keep checking it to make sure it hasn’t changed its mind.
. This is a popular number among people who think they’re being puckishly whimsical about algebra or who have stumbled across the mathematical equivalent of “how do I know I’m not just dreaming I’m awake?” The answer is that if you were just dreaming you were awake, you would know whether the blue you see is the same hue as the red other people see. See also: Boltzmann brains.
. The scariest quaternion in the world.
[ Also, for the non-bots following me, and who like mathematics stuff, I do keep up a mathematics-focused blog, with less efforts on my part to be generally silly. ]