Take One Eighty-Three to Thirty-five, exit Twenty-two Twenty...
August 8, 2017 12:47 PM   Subscribe

Asking because my coworker from China is very confused: How would you describe the "pronunciation" of numbered roads in the US? Is there grammar for this that English-speakers have universally accepted, or is it regional?

The best explanation I could provide to her is that for one or two digit roads or highways, we pronounce them as a single number (Interstate 35 is "Thirty-five"). For three digits, we pronounce the first number independently then say the second and third as a single number (Route 620 is "Six Twenty"). For four digits, we say two numbers (2222 is "Twenty-two, Twenty-two").

She immediately asked about 5 digits (mostly for street addresses, I don't know any highways named this way) and 7 digit/10 digit phone numbers, and pointed out we appear to use different grammar for these. I have no good answers here, and I know that phone numbers are a whole other mess.

We live in Texas so maybe my way of saying these things is local to me. If anyone could find a good resource about this that would be great (googling only provided some basic info on writing conventions, not spoken conventions).
posted by obtuser to Society & Culture (45 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
So my understanding of federal highway numbering is that a three digit number is generally (but not always) a shorter offshoot of or parallel to a two-digit number, which explains why it's pronounced single-digit, double-digit.

For example, here in Pittsburgh we have Highway 79 (seventy-nine). Two offshoots of that are Highways 279 and 579 (Two-Seventy-Nine and Five-Seventy-Nine). Or in California there is highway 10, 110, and 210.
posted by muddgirl at 12:54 PM on August 8, 2017 [10 favorites]

We have five-digit addresses in metro Detroit (only place I've ever lived that had them), and I hear mostly pronouncing all five digits ("four seven six one six") or combining the first two ("forty-seven six one six"). All the people I remember doing it differently are kinda weird in other ways too.
posted by Etrigan at 1:05 PM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm spitballing, but maybe one way to explain it is to compare it to the way we pronounce years. With years and numbered roads both, we default to an informal way of saying the number, and we elide any words that are unnecessary because they're an understood element of the thing we're talking about.

When it was 1984, we didn't say "It's Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Four," even though that's technically the correct way to say the cardinal number 1,984 out loud.

Or, if you ask someone to count jelly beans in a jar and then ask them what the result is, they may say "two hundred and six," or they may say "two-oh-six." You'd know what they meant in either case. One's just slightly less formal. The "hundred" is unnecessary since they've just dictated a three-digit number, and we know three-digit numbers are in the hundreds.

Another difference is that unlike other numbers, road numbers aren't quantifying anything. They don't refer to an amount.

So my understanding of federal highway numbering is that a three digit number is generally (but not always) a shorter offshoot of or parallel to a two-digit number, which explains why it's pronounced single-digit, double-digit.

That's true of the Interstate system, but it's not universal. Where I live, there's a county road 102 and a state highway 113. Neither is derivative of another numbered road.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:07 PM on August 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

For 5-digit addresses, which I grew up around (Chicago area), we always said the first 3 digits like you do highways, and the last two digits as a single number. So 15812 becomes One Fifty-Eight Twelve.

But the street that address is near is pronounced as One Hundred and Fifty Eighth (158th) Street. The "hundred" always works its way into the street names.

Phone numbers can always be pronounced as their individual digits except for those ending in 00 or 000.
posted by hydra77 at 1:08 PM on August 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Howdy, fellow Austinite.

I agree with your logic. I rarely encounter 5-digit addresses, but when I do, I'd read (say) 18534 as "eighteen five thirty-four." I have never seen a 5-digit route number either. I'm not sure what logic underlies all this, but I think it's speed and comprehensibility. "Six twenty" is faster to say than "six hundred twenty." "Twenty two twenty two" is as fast to say as "two two two two" and (perhaps) easier for the listener to understand.

None of this holds for 5-digit zip codes, which I just read off one digit at a time.
posted by adamrice at 1:10 PM on August 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

If it's any consolation to your coworker, I'm a native speaker of American English from a place where house numbers and route numbers over 1000 are rare, and I too am flummoxed by how to pronounce 5-digit house numbers and 4-digit routes.

I'm sure there is some logic to it for those who are used to it, but it's pretty opaque to me as an outsider.
posted by mskyle at 1:10 PM on August 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

I used to live in a part of the country with a large Hispanic population, and had a job where I talked to a lot of strangers on the phone, and noticed that native Spanish speakers tended to group phone numbers differently than native English speakers. They would almost always pronounce the last four of a phone number as two groups of two, instead of four single digits (which is what I'm more familiar with). So if your phone number was 555-8816, they would say "eighty-eight sixteen" instead of "eight eight one six." This would get especially difficult when it was like 555-7012 with "seventy twelve."
posted by jabes at 1:14 PM on August 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

I always "spell out" 5-digit zip codes as single digits. nine oh two one oh. Phone numbers are single digits, or occasionally pair up the 4-digit (i.e one two three - forty five sixty seven) but mostly I spell those out too.
posted by aimedwander at 1:15 PM on August 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've always had 4 and 5 digit addresses, and they've always been "spelled out" as single numbers. 19896 Whatever Ave? "One Night Eight Nine Six". 2776 Local Street? "Two Seven Seven Six". Zeros are "Oh" though. 2098? "Two Oh Nine Eight". Same with phone numbers - each number is called out individually. Even if it ends with 000 - ie 555-5000 becomes "Five Five Five, Five Oh Oh Oh".

It never occurred to me that this might be a regional thing, however I've been hanging out on ask.mefi long enough to know that should just be my default assumption by now!
posted by cgg at 1:15 PM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Northeastern/Bay Area data points:

My experience matches yours for two- and three-digit highway numbers, and for four-digit address numbers.

I've only heard five-digit zip codes read by digit ["nine four seven one oh/zero", "zero/oh two one four oh/zero"]; this seems to carry over to address numbers ["three two nine eight seven Highway One"] IME. I haven't heard anyone say "nine four seven ten" for a Berkeley zip code, f'rex, or "one hundred ten" or "one oh oh ten" for 10010.

Phone numbers: I've heard both digit-by-digit and single digits with some combos. If they follow standard American format [xxx-yyy-zzzz], I've heard things like:
- digit by digit for all ten digits
- digit by digit for both the area code and prefix ["six one seven, six two four"], then splitting the four-digit line number ["thirty-two ten" rather than "three two one zero"]
- reading the line number as a whole number ["three thousand," "sixty-two hundred"].
- single-digit, double-digit for the three-digit area code ["five-ten" rather than "five one oh," and "five one oh" more than "five one zero"], but not necessarily for the three-digit prefix group
- I've never heard anyone say "six seventeen" for the Boston area code, but I hear "five ten" and "five one oh" about equally for that East Bay area code. I wonder about "ten" and "twelve" especially in area code verbiage, and whether it's got regional associations, or possibly a level of informality/presumed familiarity with "510" being an area code they use often when dialing [being local?]
posted by Pandora Kouti at 1:15 PM on August 8, 2017

Like everyone else, I'm putting out my own mostly instinctual rules here. If it's a number, it's the short version. If it's a descriptor, you say the whole thing. So "you are number one-oh-seven in line" vs "you are the one hundred and seventh person in line".

I can see the federal highway names becoming a convention broadly applied to three-digit state and local roads that aren't offshoots.
posted by yeahlikethat at 1:17 PM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

An exception to the three-digit highway number thing are the ones where the tens digit is zero. Highway 101 is "one-oh-one", for example. I-405 is "the four-oh-five" (with "the" because it's SoCal).
posted by Lexica at 1:21 PM on August 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

There a definite regional differences in the non-numeric part of a highway. Not just the actual name (highway.parkway,Thruway) but I-9 vs route 9 vs US 9. Also use of an article:the nine freeway.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:24 PM on August 8, 2017

There's an I-405 in WA too, called four-oh-five (no "the").
posted by mpark at 1:34 PM on August 8, 2017

One easy-to-summarize detail is that you never say "hundred" or "thousand" when saying street names, phone numbers, or address numbers. You do name numbers up to ninety-nine. Once you've accepted that, it's about saying numbers in the easiest-to-parse way. When there's a zero in the middle, you say the "oh" to make sure the listener gets the correct number of digits.

If there are 2 numbers: double. 12 -> twelve
If there are 3 numbers: single double. 123 -> one twenty-three
If there are 4 numbers: double double. 1234 -> twelve thirty-four
If there are 5 numbers: double single double: 12345 -> twelve three forty-five

Note that the 5 numbers can be understood in 2 ways: one - it's following a two-three rule. Two, placing the single between the two doubles helps your brain break it up and remember the sequence.

You typically don't say strings of 6 digits that hasn't got some kind of break. Phone numbers follow a three-four rule.

If you said the whole number, it would take a lot longer: twelve thousand three hundred and forty five. If you said single digits, now you need to remember a string of 5 numbers (one two three four five). Splitting it to double single double means you effectively only need to remember a string of 3 numbers (twelve three forty-five).
posted by telepanda at 1:39 PM on August 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

When reciting a phone number, you say one digit at a time. This is to avoid the situation where someone is dialing as you are rattling it off and you say "seven", they hit seven at the same time you say "teen". It is less important now that many phones allow you to edit the number before dialing, but it is still good practice.

The double zero is often said as "double oh", but I still just say "zero zero" when stating my zip code to keep the same rhythm.
posted by soelo at 1:45 PM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

you never say "hundred" or "thousand" when saying... phone numbers

Except unfortunately in the case of 800 or 900 numbers, e.g. "1-800-FLOWERS" is universally "one eight hundred flowers," never "one eight oh oh flowers" or "one eight zero zero flowers"!
posted by andrewesque at 1:49 PM on August 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

For route numbers and many addresses (at least through four digits*), I think the pronunciation follows the same rules we use for pronouncing money: Try pronouncing them the way you would an amount of dollars & cents.

So 660 Broadway is “Six-sixty”, pronounced the same as $6.60. Similarly, 1515 Park is “Fifteen-fifteen,” the way “$15.15” would be. The one exception here is numbers ending in two or three zeros: always end with "hundred" or "thousand" if you can, I think? (I disagree with telepanda here.) 2600 Riverfront is “twenty-six hundred,” not “two thousand six hundred.” Maybe with a double zero at the end the decimal goes all the way to the right... because one street number in either direction it sounds like money again: “twenty-five ninety-nine Riverfront,” “twenty-six oh-one Riverfront,” etc.

*I have never lived in a neighborhood with 5-digit numbers, which might neatly explain why I get lost in them and why I am kinda terrible with money.
posted by miles per flower at 1:54 PM on August 8, 2017

For three digits, we pronounce the first number independently then say the second and third as a single number

I suppose that's true, but you need a rule to pronounce a leading zero if present, e.g. highway 101 is one-o-one because you are breaking it into 1 and 01.
posted by w0mbat at 1:54 PM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

One easy-to-summarize detail is that you never say "hundred" or "thousand" when saying street names, phone numbers, or address numbers.

Except when it's the end of the number, e.g., 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., "sixteen hundred Pennsylvania Avenue."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:57 PM on August 8, 2017

you never say "hundred" or "thousand" when saying... phone numbers

If my phone number were xxx-9764, I wouldn't say "ninety seven hundred sixty four" for the last four digits, I'd say "nine seven six four". But if it were xxx-9700, I'd say "ninety-seven hundred" , and for xxx-9000 I'd say "nine thousand". I don't think phone numbers ending in -0000 exist, possibly because nobody would know how to pronounce them.

Similarly for street addresses. I work at 300 X Parkway, pronounced "three hundred", not "three zero zero". So basically, if the number ends in two or three zeroes you pronounce it as "hundred" or "thousand".

(In short, I agree with miles per flower.)
posted by madcaptenor at 1:59 PM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Another Chicagoan re 5 digit addresses: it's basically the same format as 3 and 4 digit addresses, e.g., 12354 S. Whatever Street is One Twenty Three Fifty Four because you're referring to the 123rd block of S. Whatever, 54th house on the block.
posted by she's not there at 2:01 PM on August 8, 2017

Not just Chicago. I'd pronounce a five-digit address in Philadelphia (and basically any city with a similar grid layout) the same way, and for the same reasons. Although off the top of my head I'm not sure Philadelphia is big enough to have five-digit addresses. But my former apartment at 4530 was definitely "forty-five thirty".
posted by madcaptenor at 2:03 PM on August 8, 2017

The most general rule I would say would be that for location numbers larger than 100 it will never be incomprehensible to a native English speaker to say each number, i.e., "Route four one two" or "five oh four six Main St". This is how my GPS does it for example. Pretty much anything more specific than that is regional, and can only be learned by hearing locals use it.
posted by tchemgrrl at 2:04 PM on August 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

There are a lot of colloquial rules you can follow, but you have to learn them by experience because there are just too many exceptions.

The best thing to do is just to pronounce each digit individually. There's a reason the NATO/ICAO spelling alphabets require this when reading out numbers over the radio. There's just so much less room for error when communicating across a language/accent gap.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:09 PM on August 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Anecdata: through my in-laws in india I have become familiar with, and rather enamored of, a peculiar (to me) preference for always calling out doubles and triples within a number.

say you were dialing 877-643-1110, my mother in law would almost assuredly tell you to call "eight - double seven - six, four, three, triple 1, zero"
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 2:24 PM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

In the UK, road numbers are said thus:
M1 - m one
M23 - m twenty-three
A272 - A two seven two
B2217 - b twenty seventeen or b two two one seven, depending who you ask.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:30 PM on August 8, 2017

Re: five-digit addresses—as someone who grew up near a LOT of five-digit addresses (hellooooo suburbia) I have never heard someone combine numbers in the address. So 14526 Cul-de-Sac Lane would be: one four five two six Cul-de-Sac Lane. Never fourteen five twenty-six Cul-de-Sac Lane!

I have a vague memory of once or twice having people combine a five-digit address as single-double-double—so one forty-five twenty-six Cul-de-Sac Lane. But that would still sound wrong to me.

I wonder if it's regional? I grew up in the Bible Belt.
posted by good day merlock at 2:34 PM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you live in or near zipcodes that start with a 0, do you say the leading 0? Does the USPS need it?
posted by clew at 3:04 PM on August 8, 2017

Interstate 35 is "Thirty-five"

There's a regionalism with articles at play here also -- in California, maybe other places, this road might usually be called "I-35" (eye-thirty-five) or even "The 35".
posted by Rash at 3:05 PM on August 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

Yes, ZIP codes beginning with zero are always spoken with "oh" or "zero" up front in my experience (born and raised in New England where all the ZIP codes start with zero). Example: 02740 = "oh two seven four oh". Never seen it left off the address on an envelope, either, although it wouldn't surprise me if USPS were still able to deliver an item so addressed.
posted by letourneau at 3:11 PM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Same with phone numbers - each number is called out individually. Even if it ends with 000 - ie 555-5000 becomes "Five Five Five, Five Oh Oh Oh".

Empire Today (formerly Empire Carpets) says their phone number in their radio ads and it's "Five Eight Eight Two Three Hundred Empiiiiiiiiiire" (588-2300), so that rule has at least one exception.

I'm trying to think of another one and not have any luck, so that might be it.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 3:28 PM on August 8, 2017

This is making me laugh. Im so messed up, having lived on both coasts and several places in between. People give me crap when I put "the" in front of freeway numbers but I cant help it! When I'm concentrating I say them with an "I" in front, as in "you take I-35." I do four digit addresses (never had a five digit one that I remember) 2 different ways. 5003 was "five, zero, zero, three." But 1711 was "seventeen, eleven." I did say twenty two, twenty two like a local when we lived in Austin. But I'll never forgive Austinites for destroying my pronunciation of Spanish. "Guada-loop" instead of "Guada-lu-pay" "San Jha-cinto" when it should be "San Yah-cinto."
" And don't even get me started on "Mancheck..."
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:33 PM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Neat question! While there are lots of good rules of thumb above, I find myself unconvinced that any ruleset is going to be more than about 90% faithful to what people really do. For instance, here are some exceptions to rules stated above which sounded convincing to me at first:
  • "Don't say 'thousand' in an address, unless it ends in 000" -- but I'd pronounce 3008 as "three thousand eight" because it seems clearer than "thirty oh eight" and more economical than "three zero zero eight".
  • "Parse three digits as single, double, and four digits as double, double" -- but I'd read 123 as "one two three" because it's euphonious, and 6066 as "six oh six six" because "sixty sixty-six" is confusing.
I've tried to give my subjective reasons for these exceptions above, but at base I think this is like a lot of other language phenomena, in that sometimes the brain just short-circuits any learned rules. This seems especially likely to happen for numbers that have a salient pattern to them, like 123 above. Though who knows, maybe it's a one-off case of influence from Sesame Street.
posted by aws17576 at 3:51 PM on August 8, 2017

Oh, I wanted to add:

say you were dialing 877-643-1110, my mother in law would almost assuredly tell you to call "eight - double seven - six, four, three, triple 1, zero"

They might just be having fun with patterns (à la "N-C-double-A"), but this could also be for clarity -- otherwise the listener might wonder if the repetition of a digit was deliberate or not. I used to have a credit card number with five 0's in a row, and when reading it aloud, I'd always say something awkward like "... and then five zeroes ..." because it was less prone to misunderstanding than the alternatives. So we can add that to the roster of exceptions.
posted by aws17576 at 4:00 PM on August 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

In Texas, I've never heard ZIP codes said as Seventy Eight Seven Fifty One, alwayseach individual number: Seven Eight Seven Five One
posted by a humble nudibranch at 5:00 PM on August 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

The grouping of five-digit numbers as two-one-two is very strange to me. I would have sworn that anyone who said them that way was a nonnative speaker until two minutes ago. For me (from the greater Chicago accent area, in a place with many five-digit addresses) it's always one-two-two, like "one twenty-two sixty-four thirty-second street, point pleasant wisconsin, five three one four oh". (ZIP codes are always digit by digit for me.)

Three-digit highways are "highway one twenty-eight" even when they're in a system where highway 28 and 128 have nothing to do with one another. Three-digit streets are different -- "hundred thirty-fourth street" (not one hundred thirty-fourth), "two hundred twenty-eighth avenue."
posted by yomimono at 5:28 PM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Fascinating question. I grew up and have always lived in the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast corridor. My childhood home was a four digit number, which we always spelled out as individual digits (e.g. four three oh two). Same with the ZIP code. I now live in a high-rise with a four digit apt number, which I read out as two sets of two (e.g. twenty-five fifteen). ZIP still gets individual digits through. Phone numbers have always been individual digits. Street names are generally grouped (e.g. at the corner of Forty-third and A Hundred and Sixtieth Street)

If it's a number, it's the short version. If it's a descriptor, you say the whole thing.
I think yeahlikethat is on to something here.
posted by basalganglia at 6:52 PM on August 8, 2017

Interstate numbers encode information. North-South interstates have odd numbers (O for nOrth sOuth); East-West interstates have even numbers (E for East-wEst). They have one- and two-digit numbers, counting up from South to North (I-2 in the farthest south to I-96 in the farthest north) and West to East (I-5 to I-99). Interstates that end in 5 or 0 are the most important (I-40, I-90, I-5, I-95). If they have a number in the front, making it a 3-digit number, it's either a loop or a spur. Even numbers are for loops and by-passes; odd numbers are for spurs. So I-294 goes around Chicago and joins back up with 94 on either end; I-155 is a spur off I-55 that doesn't reconnect. So it makes sense to say "three-ninety-five" because 395 is a spur on interstate 95. Or "two-ninety-four" because 294 is a bypass on 94. But "two hundred ninety-four" is weird because it drops the "94" as the primary information encoder -- it's 94 with a two in front of it so you know it's a bypass.

Similarly, with address numbers in many parts of the US, information is encoded. In the Midwest, it's very typical for 1 mile to be divided into 8 blocks, and major thoroughfares to occur every 8 blocks/1 mile. So you talk about the 800 block, the 1600 block, the 3200 block, and would give an address as "thirty-two twenty-one north" or whatever, because the 32 tells you how far north it is (4 miles) and the 21 tells you what specific building to look for. Saying "three thousand, two hundred, twenty-one" or "3, 2, 2, 1" obscures some of that information. (Further, in most places, even numbers are on the north side off the street, odds on the south; evens on the east, odds on the west.) You want to know it's "32" whatever, or "8" whatever, or "6" whatever, so you know how far north you are of the 0,0 point. (Many cities have an actual market at the 0,0 point that you can go visit!)

If you want to give him even more information, in gridded American cities (west of the Appalachians or so), there tends to be a series of streets laid out "Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Quincy, Jackson, etc." in the order of the presidents (cross streets often include Liberty, Independence, Franklin, Hamilton, Lafayette, and similar). There's also often an "Ontario, Erie, Huron, Michigan, Superior" in a row for the Great Lakes, and collections of contiguous states (Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, etc.).

But I think "how to say locational numbers" makes a lot more sense when you know what the numbers are supposed to be encoding, and how they're encoding it! I've read that in parts of China, numbers in blocks of buildings encode how old the buildings are, with the oldest buildings having lower numbers. So it's a concept I'm sure he's quite familiar with, just that Americans mostly use numbers to encode directional information rather than age! (And we do that because we love our Northwest Ordinance Survey!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:40 PM on August 8, 2017 [6 favorites]

As far as spelling out phone numbers goes, I find myself wondering how strong an influence "eight-six-seven-five-three-oh-nine" is…
posted by Lexica at 8:17 PM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I grew up at two five-digit addresses (central Florida) and I am just here to support everyone else who pronounces each digit (two-one-three-four-six) because the alternatives some of you people are proposing are just ghastly. I can maybe imagine hearing two-thirteen-forty-six and taking it in stride, but if you came at me with twenty-one-four-sixty I would perceive it as a bizarre affectation.

I don't think I've been this unnerved since I learned how Canadians pronounce "decal."
posted by wreckingball at 11:12 PM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

When people recite a phone number and use double-digits, eg XXX-fourtyeight-twenty it makes my brain break. The exception is that for area code 310 some weirdos* say "three-ten" instead of "three-one-oh" for the area code, but I know what they mean when I hear the "three." Conversely, I never, ever hear people say "two-thirteen" for "213" or any other area code. (In SoCal we have so many area codes you have to dial them even if you're in LA.)

Zip codes are always pronounced using single digits.

I don't know if LA has the same kind of cool navigational hints as Eyebrows is talking about, but I can tell you that if you're west of the 405 ("the four-oh-five. You must include "the") in LA the East-West 11000 block is at Barrington.

*I very well may be the wierdo.
posted by Room 641-A at 12:24 PM on August 9, 2017

"I don't know if LA has the same kind of cool navigational hints as Eyebrows is talking about, but I can tell you that if you're west of the 405 ("the four-oh-five. You must include "the") in LA the East-West 11000 block is at Barrington."

It does! First, it has to be the "four-oh-five" because the "oh-five" is the interstate (I-5) and the "four" indicates that it's a bypass. If you called it "the four hundred five," you'd be losing important information!

But the LA street numbering system sprawls out from First and Main, including Century Boulevard 100 blocks south of the zero point, and has a whole county guide to numbering that lays out how you get your house/building number from the county survey (counting out from First and Main) and how you're denominated as N/S/E/W Street Name, and what street appendix you're allowed by size of street (Street, Road, Boulevard, Place, Lane, etc.). LA also forbids two similar names in the same fire protection area, so 911 callers who are fumbling for the proper name aren't confusing to dispatchers.

Further, in LA, as in many older US cities, there are two separate street grids -- one from the original Spanish settlement, and one from the American ordinance survey. Spanish settlements laid out their grid at a 45* angle (it was the king's law; it ensured more shade for more buildings); French settlements used a ribbon farm method that followed the principal river of the area; American settlements used an ordinal grid at a strict 90 degrees, so older cities that were first settled by the Spanish or French (including LA and Peoria) have two separate street grids, where the oldest part of the town is at a diagonal and the post-American-acquisition part of the town is on the ordinal!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:35 PM on August 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Conversely, I never, ever hear people say "two-thirteen" for "213" or any other area code.

I think this is because (unlike the highway case) the "13" and "2" don't have individual meanings. If you knew where, say, 212 or 312 or 313 is (New York, Chicago, Detroit) you can't predict where 213 is.

This is intentional. Area codes were designed so that:
- area codes with more phones would have a smaller sum of digits, where 0 counts as "10" (because it was after 9 on the dial). That way it would take less time to dial the phone numbers.
- area codes that were geographically near each other wouldn't be numerically similar (so that people wouldn't get confused)
- for some reason I don't understand, area codes that were the only one in their state had a 0 for the middle digit and area codes that were in states with multiple area codes had a 1 for the middle digit.

Here's a map of the original system and a 2014 map.

Of course, these are entirely useless facts to know because they're based on the population distribution in 1947 and they've made so many new codes since then.
posted by madcaptenor at 6:33 AM on August 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Can't see your maps but here's some area code history at Wikipedia if you want to know more about the development of phone numbering.
posted by Rash at 10:39 AM on August 11, 2017

« Older How to start finding other options for intimacy   |   What is the best biography/history of the... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments