H what?

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The mouse-over title on the latest xkcd points us to a classic argument over etymology vs. usage:

I don't know what's more telling–the number of pages in the Wikipedia talk page argument over whether the 1/87.0857143 scale is called "HO" or "H0", or the fact that within minutes of first hearing of it I had developed an extremely strong opinion on the issue.

The Wikipedia discussion in question is here. Short form: Once (a century ago) there were model railroad scales identified by numbers like 2, 1, and 0. Then (after WWI), in order to make table-top layouts more reasonable, a "half 0" scale was created. Over time — and from the beginning in some cases — the letter+number "H0" designation came to be treated as letter+letter "HO". Now North American usage (including by manufacturers, resellers, and hobbyists) is overwhelmingly "letter+letter", while European usage is apparently mixed.

One side of the Wikipedia discussion, familiar in concept if not in detail:

The correct name is "H0" or "half zero"; Google only shows that most people do it wrong.

"Interesting historical tidbits"? Do you even know what the word fact means?

You can't change a name just because a lot of people pronounce it the wrong way: the scale is called "H0", the only problem is that this "0" is pronounced "O" by some English speakers …

And on the other side:

My (and I assume that this goes for most of the editors here) comprehension of the situation is perfectly clear. It is yours that appears to be flawed. You seem to have forgotten that what was and what is are two separate situations. Your argument is the same as arguing that if a word is a Latin derivative, then it is still a Latin word and should be spelled the same. Do not continue to attempt to force your ideas by implying that anyone of a differing opinion is of lower intelligence.

The current state of the article seems to be mixed on the spelling.

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83 Comments »

  1. Dan Lufkin said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 7:52 am

    They could compromise on "half-naught".

    Why are zeros in football (soccer) scores always reported as "nil"?

  2. jsa said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 8:01 am

    In the UK, the label was (and may still be) "double-o"; indeed, the largest manufacturer pre-WW2 was "Hornby Dublo" http://www.hornby.com/about-hornby/

  3. Janne said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 8:05 am

    "The current state of the article seems to be mixed on the spelling."

    Would you be British by any chance?

  4. Mr Punch said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 8:16 am

    I (an American) have always said "letter + letter," I suppose because all the gauges with which I'm familiar are designated by letters. Actually there is one sort of exception, O27 (letter + number) — but that number has a specific quantitative meaning; it's O-gauge track with a 27-inch radius curve.

  5. empty said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 8:28 am

    Half zero?

  6. Dan T. said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 8:55 am

    Zeroes are often read off as "oh", at least in American English, as in the address to send stuff to the '70s public TV children's program Zoom, which was sung out as "Zoom, Z double-oh M, Box Three Five Oh, Boston, Mass, Oh-two-one-three-four!" There, "oh" is used both for the letter in Zoom and the number in the box number and zip code.

  7. Dan T. said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 8:57 am

    My own hobby-horse on the "etymology vs. usage" front is my strong pet peeve against people setting up noncommercial websites in .com domains… they should use .org, dammit! The RFC document defining the top level domains says so!

  8. AlexB said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 9:01 am

    @jsa

    00 is actually 1/76 (or thereabouts), whereas H0 is 1/87. In the UK, both have been considered as equivalent. Airfix, for one, marketed its 1/76th tanks and figures as H0/00 scale. As a kid with no knowledge of model trains, I've wondered a long time what HOOO might mean..

  9. Ray Girvan said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 9:03 am

    Mine (in that area, anyway) is the opposite: people setting up commercial websites on .org domains.

  10. CS Clark said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 9:11 am

    'Why are zeros in football (soccer) scores always reported as "nil"?'

    Because 'One Zero to the Arsenal' is less euphonious.

  11. Joseph Center said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 9:12 am

    Eh, you can't halve zero anyway. Stick with the letter. (If I claim to be playing Devil's advocate here, do I implicitly vilify the people with whom I wouldn't agree otherwise?)

  12. Dan T. said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 9:27 am

    Love means nothing to a tennis player.

  13. gnaddrig said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 9:33 am

    @ AlexB: Actually, the scale of 00 1/76, but the track gauge is identical to H0: 16.5mm.

  14. Dierk said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 9:36 am

    German manufacturer Märklin write letter + number, the other two form factors are 'Spur 1' and 'Spur Z'. OTOH, Normally it is spoken letter + letter, though generally 'o' is not used for zero.

    Go figure.

  15. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 9:40 am

    Dan T:

    Zeroes are often read off as "oh", at least in American English

    In British English too, in my experience. Indeed, I think this is done in one context in BrE where it wouldn't be done in AmE – dates like 1901 are read as 'nineteen-oh-one', whereas I understand Americans say 'nineteen-one'.

  16. John Cowan said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 9:47 am

    It's "nineteen-oh-one" for Yank me.

  17. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 9:49 am

    It's "nineteen-oh-one" for Yank me.

    Ah, OK. Yet another 'We do it like this but they do it like that' bites the dust.

  18. Nathaniel said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 9:57 am

    @Andrew: I can't speak for everyone, but I'm about to anyway. ;) As an American, I feel confident in my assessment that few to no Americans would find "nineteen-one" acceptable (or even comprehensible) as the year 1901, and we would also say "nineteen-oh-one" as a rule. "Nineteen-one" sounds like a score in a game of something-or-other. However, I would have said, had I been asked, that BrE for 1901 was surely "nineteen-aught-one".

  19. Lazar said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 10:21 am

    Yeah, it's always "nineteen-oh-one" in American English.

  20. Theophylact said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 10:31 am

    If I attempt to give my phone number or credit card number to a voice-recognition system and I use "zero", the machine always replies "I'm sorry, I didn't get your number." If I say "oh", it gets it right — and then repeats the number to me, using "zero" where I used "oh".

    I take this to mean that "oh" rather than "zero" is near-universal in spoken American English, since the machines aren't prepared to handle a reasonable (and indeed correct) variant.

  21. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 10:42 am

    I guess this explains why it's "aitch-oh scale" and not "hoh scale", something which always puzzled me as a child. (Not that there is any logic to begin with in a system where the three most common classifications, in decreasing order of size, are "O", "HO", and "N".)

    Then again, I notice that in general I've always been much more ready to pronounce initialisms as words than most of my peers. Why "You Are Ell" instead of "url"? Why "Ay Ess Ay Pee" instead of "aysap"? And why, oh, why would anyone say "Owe Be Gee Wye En"?

  22. Spell Me Jeff said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 10:52 am

    I seem to recall reading somewhere that the "oh" pronunciation came about because on a telephone dial, "O" was associated with "Operator." The explanation makes sense, but could easily be apocryphal.

  23. Bob Couttie said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 11:03 am

    the 303 rifle, in the UK is the three oh three, and need I remind you of James Bond's designation.

    "However, I would have said, had I been asked, that BrE for 1901 was surely "nineteen-aught-one"" Nope, it's oh-one. I have never heard anyone other than an American use "aught" for a zero.

  24. Q. Pheevr said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 11:28 am

    @empty: That's half-(zero scale), not (half-zero) scale. Makes perfect sense.

  25. Boris said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 11:31 am

    It is my understanding that Nineteen-One was how it was pronounced at the time (only by Americans?). I would never use or understand such a reading today, though (Twenty-oh-one sounds weird to me, however, but a shortened oh-one is ok).

  26. Dan T. said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 11:31 am

    @Spell Me Jeff: Though, confusingly, the letter "o" corresponds to the number 6 on the telephone dial. Whoever assigned the letter-to-number equivalents kept in the potentially confusing letters O and I, corresponding to different numbers from 0 and 1, and also L (which in lowercase form can be confused with 1), while omitting Q and Z despite their not being so easily confusable with numbers.

  27. Spell Me Jeff said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 11:35 am

    I'm a yank, and I rarely hear aught outside limited contexts. Historically, 1901-1909 were pronounced with an "aught," and you still read and hear that sometimes when the context is meant to suggest an old-fashioned feeling. The language of firearms is replete with aughts, as in the .30-06 rifle, pronounced “thirty-aught-six,” and 00 buckshot, pronounced "double-aught." Both of these usages are old and persistent.

  28. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 11:36 am

    I think the closest American equivalent to the .303 (in the sense of a size of rifle cartridge and/or a gun designed to fire such cartridges) is the .30-06, which wikipedia says is "(pronounced “thirty-aught-six”, "thirty-oh-six")." I learned the "aught" pronunciation in my childhood at some summer camp or Boy Scout rifle range – I'm pretty sure this is the only context (and it's a fixed phrase) in which I would use "aught" other than as an affectation/archaism. Wikipedia tells me that "aught" is standard in the U.S. when talking about gauges of electrical wire, but I guess I don't have occasion to talk about that often enough to have lexicalized the preferences of the relevant speech community.

  29. Fred said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 11:46 am

    Dan T: "@Spell Me Jeff: Though, confusingly, the letter "o" corresponds to the number 6 on the telephone dial."

    The old style British dial phone (before they deleted the letters, which was before they brought them back) had only "MN" at 6, and "OQ" at zero. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:TELE712DIAL.JPG

  30. Zythophile said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 12:03 pm

    Here in the UAE, where the standard of English is very high among a population that comes mostly from South and South East Asia, you won't be understood, if you try to, eg, give a telephone number as "oh-five-oh (et cetera), which would be standard BrE style". It has to be given as "zero-five-zero".

    The game I believe is called tic-tac-toe in AmE is noughts and crosses in BrE

  31. Darrell said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 12:43 pm

    @Dan T.: I registered a .com domain because I was led to understand that .org was intended only for non-profit organizations. According to that understanding, there was no TLD for personal vanity sites until recently. I'm not familiar with the document you mention. So I thought I was coming down on the etymology side, but you would put me on the usage side.

    Re H0/HO: I can't think of another context in which "half" preceding a number or number-like item is abbreviated with an H. I wonder whether it was an unprecedented innovation in this case. Anyway, if the old 2, 1, and 0 are no longer used — and a quick look around Wikipedia suggests at least that 1 and 2 have been replaced by G, if I understood what I read — then isn't it high time a new designation was introduced? Just H by itself would probably be fine.

  32. army1987 said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 1:09 pm

    IIRC, the blood type 0 was originally called O after the German word for “without”, or something like that.
    @Ray Girvan: same for me.

  33. Ellen K. said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 1:20 pm

    Blood type 0 (zero)? That's the first time I've ever heard of such a thing. There's O, A, B, and AB, each positive or negative — no numbers involved.

  34. Spell Me Jeff said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 1:35 pm

    Wikipedia indicates that many European countries refer to type O as type 0 (zero) to indicate that the antigens characterizing types A and B are not present. I could not find the origin of O, but German "Ohne" (without) does seem reasonable. Ludwik Hirszfeld and Emil von Dungern are credited as co-discoverers. The latter was German; the former a Pole, though he studied medicine in Germany.

  35. Rodger C said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 1:45 pm

    I seem to remember that when there were people who could remember 1901, some of them pronounced it "nineteen and one." This was in WV, though.

  36. gribley said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 2:01 pm

    Regarding the several comments on "nineteen-oh-one": I've been noticing a shortening of this lately (ok, in the last half decade; my observation is a bit behind the times). I've heard a number of examples of dates like "twenty-eight", "twenty-nine", and so forth. Has anyone else noticed this?

    I'm not sure why " nineteen-oh-one" seems more natural than "twenty-oh-one". There's something less elegant about the pronunciation of "twenty". But I suspect the main reason is the doubling of the zero, which seems somehow like overkill to stress. Of course, "twenty-eight" is at very best ambiguous, if by it the speaker means 2008 and not 28, but in context it's never actually ambiguous.

    Of course, now that we're back to double digits, I think this is behind us.

  37. BlueBottle said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 3:02 pm

    @Nathanial: 'However, I would have said, had I been asked, that BrE for 1901 was surely "nineteen-aught-one".'

    I don't think I've ever come across a British use of "aught" to mean "zero" in any circumstances. "Naught" or "nought", yes, but "aught" means "anything" rather than "nothing", in my experience.

  38. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 3:03 pm

    I always lexicalized the firearms aught as "odd," hearing "thirty-odd-six. Perhaps an eggcorn?

  39. LDavidH said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 3:03 pm

    @Ellen K.: In Sweden, the blood group is definitely "noll" (zero), not the letter O. And when I have regerred to it as zero in UK English, nobody has ever corrected me, so I assume it's correct here as well.

  40. LDavidH said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 3:03 pm

    Sorry, meant "referred".

  41. empty said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 4:01 pm

    dates like 1901 are read as 'nineteen-oh-one', whereas I understand Americans say 'nineteen-one

    Maybe you're thinking of the distinction between 'two hundred three' and 'two hundred and three'. Some AmE pedants insist on the former; I'm not sure how it is with BrE pedants.

  42. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 4:39 pm

    @empty: "Nineteen-one" did exist in American English. For instance,

    "I should think it was done in nineteen-one or two — wasn't it, Esther?"

    Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again

    However, I think I've only ever heard "nineteen oh-one", except as a joke.

    @LDavidH: I've never heard blood type O called type 0 (in American English), though it would make a lot of sense.

  43. KevinM said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 4:40 pm

    @Rodger C
    Dialect, I think. I've heard it from my own WV forbears and also in the odd ballad "Peg and Awl" (a kind of John Henry for cobblers).
    "In the year of eighteen and one Peg and awl" It's in the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music.

  44. MarcF said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 5:38 pm

    The only vocalization for 2001 that sounds right to me is "two thousand one". (American by the way).

  45. John said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 6:08 pm

    @gribley: I can't speak for all of the UK, but for me it's "two thousand and one, two, three … two thousand and nine, twenty ten, twenty eleven". As far as I know, I've only heard "twenty oh eight" etc on American TV, and I remember finding it jarring. The problem with "twenty-eight" etc is the potential for confusion with, well, '28. Though it's probably going to be clear from context…

  46. Ellen K. said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 6:11 pm

    Okay, so some people (people in some places) call it type zero. It's still incorrect to write, as Army1987 did, that "the blood type 0 was originally called O". It still is. At least by some people in some places. And nothing incorrect in what I wrote.

  47. Jonathan D said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 6:26 pm

    I (an Aussie, sometimes living in London) have been saying twenty-oh-one since before twenty-oh-one, just cause it felt right to be consistent with 1901, etc. I've always thought that the difference in common usage was more to do with the difference between 1900 and 2000 – nineteen hundred is shorter than the full wording of the number, but twenty hundred isn't. People then tend to continue the same patttern for the following years, especially Americans (or others) who don't feel a need to use an 'and'.

  48. Joe Fineman said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 8:06 pm

    My understanding is that the (mis)pronunciation "ought" for "nought" (fairly common in the US, esp. in shop talk) resulted from misdivision of "a nought" as "an ought", as with "apron" & some other words. I see that that is the OED's guess as well, but there may be some contamination by the fancy that 0 is the initial O of "ought".

    If you asked me when my mother was born, I (US, born 1937) would certainly say "nineteen eight", tho of course I am used to hearing "nineteen oh eight". There's a blues in which the year 1910 is rendered "nineteen and ten", so perhaps in that dialect "nineteen and eight" is also a possibility.

  49. Mark F said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 9:18 pm

    My dad, born 1939 (in the US), usually gives the birth year of his dad as "nineteen three", although lately he's started to cave in and say "nineteen oh three".

  50. HP said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 9:26 pm

    I'm reminded of the filmmaking term MOS (pronounced "em-oh-ess"), which is used to refer to a scene that is filmed silent, without live sound recording. Supposedly, this comes from Fritz Lang telling his American cinematographer, "This scene will be shot mit-out sound." This was dutifully entered in the shooting script as "MOS."

    This story has the whiff of apocrypha, but I've never heard an alternative explanation.

  51. John Walden said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 1:56 am

    So perhaps all those rappers are in fact talking about their model train sets.

  52. Pflaumbaum said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 3:44 am

    @ HP – Wikipedia has MOS standing for Motor Only Shot, though it does also recount your Lang story.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MOS_(filmmaking)

    There was a slogan during the last US election that punned on O/0 – the clever, though unpronounceable, 08AMA!. Can anyone think of any others?

  53. Nicholas Waller said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 3:55 am

    @John "I've only heard "twenty oh eight" etc on American TV" – Jeremy Paxman pronounces dates that way as quizmaster of University Challenge (on BBC 2), though I don't know if he does in other parts of his life – it always sounds as though he is deliberately and rather unusually saying them that way for some kind of question-asking consistency.

    As a Brit, for me the book and film 2001: A Space Odyssey has always been "two thousand and one" since I first heard about it as an eager 10-yo in 1968.

  54. Bob Ladd said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 3:56 am

    My mother (American, born 1921) definitely used to say "nineteen-one" for 1901.

  55. John F said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 4:01 am

    For most people, in written language it's hard to tell the difference between a 0 and O, so the context decides. Hence it doesn't matter whether 0 or O is spoken, because when you write it down it looks the same (unless you need to be particularly precise).

    Computers can only decide based on smart programming. Programmers are never as smart as they think (I include myself here), so there needs to be a distinction when computers get involved.

    I would probably always use 0 in this case, but I then I say S Q L and not sequel.

    The really crazy thing is that in English we use an egg (l'oeuf) for 0 in tennis in the games and 0 in the tie breaks.

  56. Barney said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 6:33 am

    I'd never heard of this scale either, but I've already developed a very strong opinion that both 'H0' and 'HO' are used.

  57. John Baker said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 6:53 am

    I'm having trouble figuring out how XKCD comes out on the HO/H0 distinction; it looks like the character could be either an O or a 0. Perhaps that ambiguity is intentional.

  58. m said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 6:55 am

    I heard someone refer to last year's date as "twenty-oh-ten" — and the previous years more logically also had an "oh" in them. (location: Michigan)

  59. Püppi said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 7:10 am

    Blood type O is definitely 0 (null) in German, and H0 (toy trains, ha null) is not the same as HO (Handelsorganisation = GDR supermarkets, ha o). Anyway, using a zero for "none" is quite obvious, so there's no need to recur to the word "ohne". I remember that old typewriters didn't include keys for 0 and 1, so you had to use O and l, and old binary logic notation used O and L for what is now 0 and 1, but in spoken German there has never been a conflation between either.

  60. Rodger C said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 7:33 am

    And then there's the film 2001, references to which seem to vary between "two thousand one" and "two thousand and one"; though sometime in the late 20th century I heard a sports announcer, I think of a certain age, refer to a marching band version of the opening movement of Also sprach Zarathustra as "the theme music to Twenty-Oh-One".

  61. anchorageite said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 9:14 am

    To the extent this debate is genuine, I assume it is exclusively British. I have never seen it in the American model railroad press, where the received wisdom is that the term "HO" stands for Half O (as in the letter [oh]). This is a reference to O (oh) scale or 1:48, which was a familiar scale at the time HO was created. Although O scale survives, it it much less popular than HO today. Only now do I learn that O scale originated in Britain as 0 (zero).

  62. Dan T. said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 9:22 am

    @Darrell: The official domain name structure (pre-new-TLDs) is given in RFC 1591:
    http://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/rfc1591.txt

    .org is defined there as "This domain is intended as the miscellaneous TLD for
    organizations that didn't fit anywhere else. Some non-
    government organizations may fit here." .com is "intended for commercial entities". There is, indeed, no thought to providing domains for individuals rather than organizations, coming from an archaic mindset where only institutions of some sort participated directly in the Internet.

  63. John Cowan said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 1:24 pm

    1801 was often called the year one, at least in the U.K., and I bet in the U.S. as well. Likewise at least as far as the year ten, maybe later.

    1816, the Yyear Without a Summer (New England experienced snowfall in July, whereas the average summer temperature is 22C/70F) was sometimes called Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death in hindsight. Because of crop losses to frost, it became the last (or latest) pandemic non-political famine.

  64. B.Ma said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 5:50 pm

    For some reason I've always said "two oh one one" although I have never heard anyone else say it that way. In the UK the blood group is definitely the letter O, but lots of doctors seem to type "H20" (aych-twenty) for water (sometimes H20) and "C02" for CO2.

    The letter O is sometimes used when people type out their phone numbers – I don't know why and it just looks wrong since the letter is a lot fatter. The worst (or best) thing I've ever seen is OOOO for midnight which someone read aloud as "uuuuu".

  65. B.Ma said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 5:51 pm

    The 2 in "(sometimes H20)" was meant to be superscript.. showed up in preview but not in final comment

  66. Jonathan D said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 5:50 am

    The "twenty-oh-ten" clanger actually showed up in a tv ad (was it Ford?) here in Australia.

  67. John F said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 8:49 am

    @B.Ma
    H2O? I think you meant subscript :)

  68. AlexB said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 9:34 am

    @B.Ma

    But water IS H twenty

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCWA7uevo_Q

  69. Mark Dunan said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 11:10 am

    The use of "ought" for the zero in 190X years is relatively famous even for people born long after that, but I had never heard the style with no "hundred" but with the intrusion of "and" (as in "nineteen and six") for a long time.

    I think the first time I ever heard it was when watching the film Shawshank Redemption, in which elderly prisoner Brooks Hatlen says something like "I came here in ought-five, and I [did something else] in nineteen-and-twelve."

    I'm thinking, "Nineteen-and-twelve! I want to say that! Why was that allowed to die!?"

    @Rodger — As for the 21st century, because the number 2000 isn't pronounced "*twenty hundred", it sounds very weird to hear "twenty-" for years in the range 2000-2099. I cringed when I heard a car commercial tout the "twenty eleven" Mazda (yes, I know they have to save syllables in a 15-second segment) and was relieved when, seconds later, a regular spots announcer said "two tousand eleven". 2014, '16, '17, '18, and '19 are particularly susceptible to sounding confusing. Twenty-four…teen? What is that? It reminds me of Bilbo Baggins turning eleventy-one.

    I suspect that by the end of the 21st century people will be using something that we haven't yet thought of. The sports video game series has been calling all their post-2000 entries "2k, 2k1, 2k2… 2k11…", probably after the year 2000 (remember when people said "the year" before it?) and the "Y2K problem". I honestly wouldn't mind if this became more popular; somehow I like it.

    @B.Ma — You're not alone with "two oh one one". I found myself doing the same thing when seeing the title of the novel "Metro 2033" as "two oh three three". Maybe it's because, even though it's a year, the word and setting "Metro" evokes numbers of trains and other conveyances. I certainly wouldn't say "flight one thousand thirteen"; it would be "one oh one three".

  70. AMM said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 11:12 am

    In the USA, at least, 0/O gauge is always called "Oh-gauge." However, as mentioned in the Wiki article, it was originally the smallest of a series of gauges denoted by numbers: 3, 2, 1, 0, so originally it was a zero.

  71. LDavidH said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 11:43 am

    @Mark Dunan: In the UK at least, years of this decade are now regularly called "twenty…" – I think especially after London won the 2012 Olympics, which are invariably referred to as "the twenty twelve Olympics".

  72. Mark Dunan said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 1:00 pm

    @LDavid — By two-ought-ninety-nine people will be laughing at those people's unusual way of saying years!

  73. LDavidH said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 2:45 pm

    Either is easier than the Swedish version, where years are construed as nineteen hundred or twenty hunded something: this year is "tjugohundraelva", twenty-hundred-and-eleven – which sounds rather strange because we would never count hundreds like that in any other context (unlike especially US English, where "fifteen hundred bucks" seems to be as acceptable as "one thousand five hundred bucks").

  74. Chris B said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 3:58 pm

    I used to hear the years 2001 to 2009 pronounced e.g. "two oh nine" quite regularly. I said either "two thousand and nine" or simply "oh nine".

    For 2011 I hear "twenty-eleven" and "two thousand and eleven" with about equal frequency. My guess is that the "twenty" form will begin to dominate as the decade continues, and by 2020 nearly all of us will say "twenty-twenty". If you can see twenty-twenty cricket with twenty-twenty vision, why can't the year be twenty-twenty?

  75. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 5:25 pm

    Mark Dunan: while it's true that 2000 isn't normally pronounced 'twenty hundred', it's equally true that 1000 isn't normally pronounced 'ten hundred'; neverthless, that doesn't stop us saying things like 'ten-sixty-six'. Numbers are regularly pronounced differently when they stand for years than in other contexts.

  76. bryan said,

    April 2, 2011 @ 5:05 pm

    It's "nineteen-oh-one" for Yank me.

    Ah, OK. Yet another 'We do it like this but they do it like that' bites the dust.

    Actually, BrE followed AmE in saying "oh" in "nineteen-oh-one"[for the year]. Normally in BrE, you'd be saying "nineteen HUNDRED and one" or some other variant.

    Mark Dunan: while it's true that 2000 isn't normally pronounced 'twenty hundred', it's equally true that 1000 isn't normally pronounced 'ten hundred'; neverthless, that doesn't stop us saying things like 'ten-sixty-six'. Numbers are regularly pronounced differently when they stand for years than in other contexts.

    ONLY in English or other European languages!
    In Chinese, the digits are said one by one for the year.

  77. bryan said,

    April 2, 2011 @ 5:08 pm

    The 2 in "(sometimes H20)" was meant to be superscript.. showed up in preview but not in final comment

    I think you meant "subscript", not "superscript". Chemical formulas are rarely written with superscipts.

  78. bryan said,

    April 2, 2011 @ 5:14 pm

    I think especially after London won the 2012 Olympics,

    London NEVER won the 2012 Olympics YET! It's still 2011! Besides the team would be from a "country", not a "city" which London is!
    London "won the bid" to be host for the 2012 Olympics.

  79. bryan said,

    April 2, 2011 @ 5:17 pm

    "flight one thousand thirteen"

    It would be "flight ten thirteen" in AmE.

  80. bryan said,

    April 2, 2011 @ 5:23 pm

    @ B.Ma,
    For some reason I've always said "two oh one one" although I have never heard anyone else say it that way.

    Your last name's Ma? Maybe it's from the Chinese that you speak. Chinese does say the numbers individually for the year.

  81. LDavidH said,

    April 3, 2011 @ 2:50 pm

    @bryan: Well, yes, OK – London won the bid, not the Olympics. I guess it's just sloppy shorthand…

  82. LDavidH said,

    April 6, 2011 @ 3:21 am

    Well actually, maybe not. The runner won a medal by winning the race, the MP won a seat in parliament by winning the election, the prince won his lady's hand… so I think maybe London did win the Olympics by winning the bid.

  83. Merri said,

    April 12, 2011 @ 8:44 am

    Isn't the discussion here about the distinction between uses of numbers :

    a) digit : "oh"
    b) abstract number : "nil, nought"
    c) count of things : "zero", at least originally

    This doesn't occur for other numbers in English, but is present, at least for small numbers, in several languages, e.g. Hebrew.

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