Seven (7)
April 15, 2004 9:06 AM   Subscribe

PetPeeveFilter: Outside of legal documents, why do people write "seven (7)" (as seen here, but in many, many other places, as well). What, they think I can't read the word seven?

Not just seven (7), of course, but also one (1), two (2), etc.
posted by MrMoonPie to Law & Government (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
You might as well ask why people do that inside legal documents.

English lawyers often found themselves faced with a choice of different languages, depending on who was running the British Isles at the time. Celt? Anglo-Saxon? French? Latin? Out of this confusion, lawyers began using compound phrases--two words next to each other that mean the exact same thing, only coming from different languages. One example of this is "null and void"--"null" from Latin and French, in case your judge insists on those languages, and "void" from English, in case a normal person wants to read your document. Long after this linguistic confusion ended, the tradition of using these cumbersome belt-and-suspenders phrases continued.

Using both the spelled-out version of a number and the number's Arabic numeral arose out of the same tradition. Arabic numerals weren't always understood by every reader (they weren't introduced into Europe until the Renaissance, I think...) so it made sense to say the same thing twice in two different ways.

There is, of course, no reason for this tradition to continue in 2004, except for the pure sake of preserving tradition.
posted by profwhat at 9:23 AM on April 15, 2004


In many fields, including accounting, public speaking, and general academics, it's common practice to include a parenthetically-enclosed numeral after the written value of a number.

It serves three (3) basic purposes:

-It's easy on the eyes, in terms of a quick read of a document or article.

-It confirms the stated value within an invoice, formula, etc. as the correct amount.

- It can be employed as a phonetic cue in oratory presentations and transcripts.

It's not intended as a condenscending aside, but merely as a byproduct of meticilous attention.
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:24 AM on April 15, 2004


It also helps differentiate quantity from other numeric values you may be stating at the same time. For instance I find it easier to understand we are going to be running two (2) 1/4 page ads then 2 1/4 page ads or even two 1/4 page ads.
posted by willnot at 9:57 AM on April 15, 2004


I suspect profwhat has the right answer.

Smart Dalek, thanks for the response, but I still don't get it. In your first (1st) and third (3rd) cases, why not just write the numeral, and omit the spelled-out number?

Good point, willnot. My brother once took my mom's shopping list to the store and brought back 2 1/2 gallons of ice cream, instead of two (2) half-gallons.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:22 AM on April 15, 2004


Smart Dalek, thanks for the response, but I still don't get it. In your first (1st) and third (3rd) cases, why not just write the numeral, and omit the spelled-out number?

To avoid a typo, would be my guess. It's easier to mess up "14" than it is to mess up "thirteen".
posted by Succa at 11:03 AM on April 15, 2004


14
thirteen


I rest my case.
posted by Succa at 11:04 AM on April 15, 2004


I assumed the error was intentional, to illustrate your point, which is a good one.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:28 AM on April 15, 2004


Something about Smart Dalek's and willnot's explanations doesn't quite ring true.

The "easy on the eyes" explanation is subjective, and subjectively speaking, I find it slows me down when I encounter a number (#) and then the same thing in parentheses. As a check on errors, it's no good. In the case of thirteen (14), which is right? A man with one watch knows what time it is, a man with two is never sure.

The point about differentiating quantities and units is handled just as easily by writing "two 1/4-page ads". When you have a number of units followed by the unit name as in this case, the number of units is hyphenated with its unit, and that sets things off adequately. With small numbers not followed by a unit, we spell them out, hence the "two" not "2". But we don't, as a rule, see large numbers spelled out at all (except dates on wedding invitations, for some reason). When's the last time you saw seven hundred thirty two (732)? Not sure if that would even appear in a legal document.
posted by adamrice at 11:45 AM on April 15, 2004


I started using that notation on all my quote requests at work because doing so resulted in my getting three (3) memory modules listed on the quote when I asked for three (3) memory modules. Before that, I'd end up getting a quote with just one unit listed as often as not.
posted by ursus_comiter at 12:49 PM on April 15, 2004


adamrice, 732 would very likely show up both ways in the form of a dollar amount. (Reminds me of writing checks, come to think of it - we spell out the value and write it numerically.)
posted by Sangre Azul at 12:56 PM on April 15, 2004


Profwhat, do you have some background on your theory you could point me to? I would love to read more.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 4:02 PM on April 15, 2004


It's stylistic convention to *always* spell out any numeral that begins a sentence, and elsewhere if it's a whole number less than 10. In American typography, I'd be surprised to find a number like 13 ever written out. (try searching Google for the numeral, and the word equivalent)

For zero through nine, adding the number in parenthesis does increase scanability, but using both number and word for 10 and above seems markedly legalistic. I can't think of a good reason to use it outside of that context.
posted by jeffhoward at 4:55 PM on April 15, 2004


Except when writing a check.
posted by jeffhoward at 4:56 PM on April 15, 2004


monju_bosatsu, David Mellinkoff's book The Language of the Law covers a lot of the history behind obtuse legal writing.
posted by profwhat at 5:43 PM on April 15, 2004


>In the case of thirteen (14), which is right?
I guess this would kick you into checking with the source.

That said, I think this doubling might be more useful with hand writing than with typing: 9 and 4, 1 and 7.

>What, they think I can't read the word seven?
I've known people who might have trouble with it.

>be surprised to find a number like 13 ever written out
I think the google search (I haven't done it, though) might be skewed by sports stats and jersey numbers (Mats Sundin, Billy Guerin), but you have a good point.

profwhat, Thanks for the book reference
posted by philfromhavelock at 8:17 PM on April 15, 2004


I assumed the error was intentional, to illustrate your point, which is a good one.

Not only was it unintentional, but I even made the error the first time, caught it, went to fix it, and made the same error again. I say to hell with the whole thing and let's all use Roman numerals.
posted by Succa at 8:28 PM on April 15, 2004


null and void"--"null" from Latin and French, in case your judge insists on those languages, and "void" from English

I keep seeing this "Latin and French vs English" theory, and I keep seeing it illustrated with examples that don't exemplify it. Void is just as French as null (OED: "a. AFr. and OFr. voide (OFr. also vuide, veude, etc.; mod.Fr. vide)"). I don't believe the theory, however often it's stated; I think legal language just tends to accrete synonyms and near-synonyms as lawyers try to pin down every possible loophole.
posted by languagehat at 8:59 AM on April 16, 2004


Better examples, languagehat:

"free and clear." Free from the Old English freo, clear from the Old French cler.

"will and testament." Will from the Old English wille, testament from the Latin testamentum.

"true and correct." True from Old English, correct from the Latin correctus.

"for and during." For from Old English, during probably from French and Latin.
posted by profwhat at 10:04 AM on April 16, 2004


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