(An interesting note: This has become the most-read blog I have posted. It is also the most-commented blog I have posted with 75 comments. Thousands of people have read it, and it has been the subject of searches tens of thousands of times.) I occasionally re-read it, and I stand by my assertions here.)
I was reading an application for a grant program at our local library recently when I encountered a series of phrases that were couched in terminology that just set me afire with curiosity.
The author, who is a colleague of mine, had put Arabic numerals in parentheses after each mention of a number. For example:
The application shall be completed in three (3) parts, and with three (3) copies to be turned in by June 30, 2012.
I have always been irritated by this style of writing because it seems so insulting. Does the author think I’m stupid? Or do they think that I don’t know my numbers?
Where does this come from? Why do people (people) do this (this)?
I looked it up on Wikipedia, and I searched around the Interwebs a bit to find the source of the style, and it seems to be based in legal terminology, though even that seems specious. There is no law that says that you have to put numbers (numbers) in parentheses, nor is there any law that says that you have to assume that people don’t know their numbers.
Curiously, there is legal precedent that defines which of two entries of a number – the written-out version or the numerical version – is considered the valid one in the event that the two don’t agree (as when written on a check). The answer is that the written-out version is the one that banks accept as the correct version, and not the numeric entry. So, if the written version is the legal version, then we don’t even need the numerical version.
So, why do people do this? I don’t have any idea (idea).
Are these the same people who think that the word “paradigm” is a useful word, or those who use “myself” when they mean “me”?
I say it’s dumb (dumb), and it’s time to stop doing it (it). Because it’s really insulting (insulting) and we don’t need numbers (numbers) in parentheses. Ever (ever).
Here’s a suggestion: if you are tempted to put numbers in parentheses after putting them in words, just don’t do it. Instead, use the Chicago Manual of Style technique. Numbers from one to ten should be written-out as words. From eleven onward, put them as Arabic numerals. That’s simple, and it makes written numbers easier to read.
Thank you (you) for reading my blog (blog).
Addendum July 12, 2017:
Today I had an great idea! What if we put numbers as Arabic numerals, then follow them with Roman numerals? Here is an example:
Please ship 23 (XXIII) tantalum capacitors and 9 (IX) paper capacitors to my new address in Munich…
Does this seem absurd? To me it’s no more absurd that putting the numbers as words after the numerals, or numerals after words. Think it over.
January 2023 Addendumb (with emphasis on the dumb!)
This morning I received a promotional e-mail from United Airlines’ frequent flyer program. It offers miles and prizes to those who respond to an offer. And, in a perfect example of the stupidity of putting numbers in parentheses, it says the following:
Eight (8) winners (winners) will receive a year-long (one-year-long) subscription to an application that helps to reduce jet-lag! (jet-lag). Why?
Perhaps it would have been more clear if they had put the deadline date in both Indo-Arabic and Roman numerals to make it clearer? Enter by February 7 (VII), 2023 (MMXXIII).
I repeat my oft-repeated comment: do they think we’re stupid? Do they think that this makes them sound more sophisticated? Do they think it adds clarity to the numbers to repeat them?
This redundancy is just plain dumb. Stop it!