What are they counting?
November 25, 2008 4:29 PM   Subscribe

What is the name of the units being counted in a street address?

One hundred of them often make a block, but what is one of them called? If someone is at 345 North Main Street and they are trying to go to 850 North Main Street they need to go 505 "somethings" north. Is there a more exact term than "five blocks"?
posted by ChrisHartley to Writing & Language (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've always referred to them as "block numbers" (this was in a professional setting (routing/logistics software), and other people used the same term). The Wikipedia article on house numbering uses that same phrase, though not in a cited context, but it also provides a number of other-language versions (e.g. "orientation number" in Czech/Slovak) that may be of interest to you.
posted by j.edwards at 4:46 PM on November 25, 2008

They're not counting, they're a numerical designation. There are always gaps and 203As and so on. So you can't actually go 505 anythings north from 345 if you want to get at 850. If you say "go 505 addresses north" I think people might figure out what you mean, but it's definitely cutesy and not actually accurate.
posted by aubilenon at 4:50 PM on November 25, 2008

I might say "buildings" or "houses", even though there is clearly not a one-to-one relationship between buildings and numbers. In some areas, the new E911 numbering regulations call for your house number to be the number of feet (yards?) from an arbitrary (but identified) "start" of your street to your driveway, so the answer could be "yards".
posted by Rock Steady at 4:54 PM on November 25, 2008

I used to own a house on a space twice as wide (more or less) as those around me, and indeed it swallowed up a number that might have otherwise been used. It was called a "double lot" by a clerk. So they may be "lots".

But in the example you're looking for, I'd call them "numbers."
posted by rokusan at 4:56 PM on November 25, 2008

I would say "doors", or at least I would say that my neighbour John lives three doors up the street from me. I don't know if I'd still say that when it got into the hundreds.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 4:57 PM on November 25, 2008

Also note that in many many cities (Chicago, for example), streets re-zero to the hundred at each intersection. So you will have 720, 722, 724, 800, 802...

Disadvantage: you don't know how many numbers/lots are between two addresses.
Advantage: you always know how many BLOCKS.
posted by rokusan at 4:57 PM on November 25, 2008

Random data point, but my parent's somewhat rural address is the exact distance in miles from the start of that direction for the road they live on (the NW section, as opposed to the SW section). So, the house number of 10983 Someroad NW is 10.983 miles from the start of the road (which is coincidentally a major interstate). The road they live on is a lettered road, and the cross roads are numbered, and thus more or less an exact mile apart.
posted by messylissa at 5:00 PM on November 25, 2008

The problem is that they're different in different cities. When I lived in Massachusetts, they incremented by one per house on a street. Yet here in the Portland area, they increment by 100 per cross street. Which means that they increment by different distances in each compass direction, since the blocks aren't square.

I don't think there's a name for the unit.
posted by Class Goat at 5:13 PM on November 25, 2008

There is an implicit assumption in the question here that numbers reset to the nearest 100 every block.

In many parts of the world (including the one I live in, and even some states in the US) "street numbers" are the numbers assigned to the lots on the official survey when the property was first subdivided, with even numbers on one side and odd numbers on the other, with the lowest numbers being at the end closest to the notional centre of town.

In my variety of English, there is no usual expression more granular than "block", "intersection" or "corner". In cities that weren't laid out in a grid, "blocks" don't even really exist and aren't part of the directional lingo as T junctions and five-way intersections and other oddities ruin them.

The thing being counted with my local street numbers is the "section", or "property". But you wouldn't normally refer to sections when indicating distances past the next corner. You might say "20 houses up from here" or "you could smell smoke three sections away" but that's it.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:19 PM on November 25, 2008

Yeah, it depends completely on the township/county and how it was laid out. Possibly on the post office too.

However, in many places, the "primary" portion of the address does reflect real distance. 100 n Main is 1st street, 2000 n Main would be 20th street. And those streets are generally laid out with real distances between them.

In Chicago, for example, an address might be 1600 w Roosevelt. That is 16 blocks from State Street, the "zero" street for east/west. And (for the most part), one block is an eighth of a mile (furlong!). So to go from 1600 w Roosevelt to 2400 w Roosevelt would be a mile. However, the "secondary" portions of addresses are fairly arbitrary. 1650 is not exactly between 1700 and 1600, but it is somewhere in the middle.

Manhattan is tenths of a mile, I believe. Maybe 20ths. I forget.

Pet peeve alert- because this is how most addresses are laid out, it drives me crazy when people pronounce addresses wrong. 9240 is "ninety two forty". 15234 is NOT "fifteen two thirty four". You are (almost always) at 152nd street, so it should be pronounced "one fifty two thirty four".

(Portions of DuPage county in IL use distance based addresses- an address might be 20W234. That address DOES reflect an actual distance from the center point. Can't find a reference that says what it all stands for though. Sorry.)
posted by gjc at 5:24 PM on November 25, 2008

I've seen some pretty outrageous addresses out in the country, like 20345 Rank Road and the like. In the desert, I think I've even seen them go into six digits. My parents live in the middle of the woods (literally) in a rural area and their street address is 462 Such-and-such road. There are 6 houses on the entire road.
posted by mrmojoflying at 5:46 PM on November 25, 2008

posted by Pollomacho at 6:24 PM on November 25, 2008

I'm English and have always just called them "numbers" or, in a residential area, "house numbers".
posted by rjt at 7:01 PM on November 25, 2008

They're called 'lots', or 'numbers'.

I used to have an address on the edge of town which was specifically 'Lot 9' (and we used the word 'Lot' in the address), and then the council (well, the Shire, as was) reorganised it and we became 'Number 20'.
posted by pompomtom at 7:03 PM on November 25, 2008

This question assumes that all the numbers are in order. In some towns (and countries) they are not necessarily in order.

The numbers are a label, they are not counting anything. It´s easier to use numbers for labels than calling houses ¨the old nelson place¨ or ¨the red house at the bend¨. Having the labels in numerical order makes finding the right number much easier.
posted by yohko at 7:35 PM on November 25, 2008

"Lot" is the first thing that came to my mind.
posted by intermod at 8:10 PM on November 25, 2008

Most of the suggestions in here won't work in the context of the original question.

Let's look at a simpler case. I'm at 100 North Main Street. We're on a short block with big office towers on it, so the next building to the north is 150 North Main Street. It is certainly not fifty buildings north of me — in fact, it's just one building north of me. Likewise, it's one lot north, one property north, and.... well, x doors north, where x is the number of entrances between mine and its.

We're looking for a unit such that you could stand at 100 North Main and say "150 North Main is 50 ______ north." "Buildings," "doors," "properties," "lots," "sections," "yards".... none of those will work in that context.

"Numbers" and "addresses" seem like the best candidates so far.

(Anyone know an urban planner? A developer? A taxi or EMS dispatcher? Someone who works for a utility company? If anyone's got an official name for the unit we're looking for, it seems like one of those industries would be it.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:17 PM on November 25, 2008

They're not counting anything unless you can do math with them. Knowing that a block is the 2100 block doesn't allow you to deduce anything other than that properties on that block have an address that starts with 21__. It doesn't tell you that there are 100 properties, even if the next block starts at 2200. You can't assume that you can count the number of houses on a block, and then calculate what their street address would be by knowing the address of the first and last house. Basically, in nearly all cases, it is a numerical naming system, like football jerseys.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:31 PM on November 25, 2008

Another fun house-number anecdote: I used to live in a house situated on a corner lot. When the house was built, though, it wasn't on a corner--the street that runs alongside the house is on a steepish hill and there must have been a footpath or something down the grade before it got paved into an actual road.

Anyhoo, when the house was built, it was numbered according to the existing grid at the time (i.e., it was between 64th and 66th, so the house number is 64XX). But when the street was developed that set it on the corner, the house ended up between 65th and 66th. Inertia being what it is, the house kept its original number, so it's still 64XX even though it's between 65 and 66. (Now that I think about it, I believe all the rest of the buildings on the block between 65 and 66 have this property. I should look.)

Fun times directing people to find the house. The city utility agencies sent bills to 64XX, but the parcel address on the accounts is recorded as 6500, presumably so the garbage truck and meter-readers can be sure to find the house.
posted by Sublimity at 10:41 PM on November 25, 2008

In Japan, it is exponentially more complicated:
posted by mezamashii at 1:39 AM on November 26, 2008

One time I worked drafting blueprints for a new suburban development. There was an "ideal" lot size, and one number was assigned to each lot, with a jump between blocks. For example, number 512 would mean 5th block, 12th lot. Big buildings and large house could occupy any number of lots, and would "swallow" the extra numbers.
posted by dirty lies at 2:38 AM on November 26, 2008

Pet peeve alert- because this is how most addresses are laid out, it drives me crazy when people pronounce addresses wrong. 9240 is "ninety two forty". 15234 is NOT "fifteen two thirty four". You are (almost always) at 152nd street, so it should be pronounced "one fifty two thirty four".

I think the use of MOST here really needs the caveat of perhaps "in Most USA Cities!". Most of the world does not share the US's seemingly absurd numbering / street naming system - as it simply doesn't make sense when there are no orderly blocks. (ie in most cities...)

Hence I see no reason to use this strange pronunciation method you speak of.
posted by mary8nne at 3:47 AM on November 26, 2008

Quite simply, you are asking for something that doesn't exist. There is no term like that, because it's over-complicated, and not likely to be accurate by most reckonings anyway. If they're at 345 Main, and need to get to 850 Main, they'll go "five blocks north, to 850 Main."

No one, and I mean no one, says "Go 8 address numbers down the block," they say "Go 3 buildings down the block." The method of reckoning that you're asking for is similar to telling people to reach a particular office or cubicle in an office building by arithmetic rather than giving directions.
posted by explosion at 4:43 AM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

A term I have seen used is "parcel", especially in legal descriptions.
posted by TedW at 4:44 AM on November 26, 2008

Quite simply, you are asking for something that doesn't exist.

This is true, and the only answer that makes sense. All the anecdotes about weird numbering systems are irrelevant except insofar as they help the poster to figure out the question is pointless.
posted by languagehat at 7:48 AM on November 26, 2008

It's not a metric space.
posted by bananafish at 10:31 AM on November 27, 2008

« Older When is the earliest I can expect an ROE from...   |   Forgive me, Steve Jobs! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.