Posted by: Jack Henry | June 28, 2016

Editor’s Corner: Zero, You’re My Hero

Hello fellow co-workers, clients, and friends!

One of you very intelligent folks brought up this topic in an email to me: What do you think about people speaking and replacing the number zero with the letter “O”? My first thought was, “Ooh, I do that sometimes when I am saying a credit card number or phone number, and sometimes I’ll say both.” My second thought was, “It’s wrong, but I don’t even realize it until after I’ve said it.”

I decided to see what the experts have to say, and I was really surprised. First, from Paul Brian’s Common Errors in English Usage, I expected him to chastise people like me. Here’s what he had to say:

When reciting a string of numbers such as your credit card number it is common and perfectly acceptable to pronounce zero as “oh.” But when dealing with a registration code or other such string of characters which mixes letters and numbers, it is important to distinguish between the number 0 and the letter O. In most typefaces, a capital O is rounder, fatter, than a zero, but that is not always the case. What looks unambiguous when you type it may come out very unclear on the other end on a computer that renders your message in a different typeface.

In technical contexts, the distinction is often made by using zeros with slashes through them, but this can create as many problems as it solves: those unfamiliar with the convention will be confused by it, numbers using such characters may not sort properly, and slashed zeros created in some fonts change to normal zeros in other fonts.

Our other expert, Grammar Girl, takes it a little farther by saying:

“…it’s actually OK in certain contexts.

For example, it’s fine—even normal—to say “oh” when you’re reading a series of numbers such as:

· A zip code (90210)

· A room number (room 404)

· A phone number (555-206-1234)

· A credit card number (1024 5026 9046 8065)

Of course, we can’t forget agent designations: James Bond (Agent 007).

You pronounce it ‘zero’ when you are talking about math or science. For example, you would say ‘five minus zero equals five’ or that the temperature is ‘below zero.’”

I read somewhere else that saying “oh” instead of zero is an American phenomenon. It still feels a little wrong to say “oh,” though, when you are talking about the number zero.

Photo Contest

This came in after the deadline, but I liked it so much I’m including it today. From Mia Murray:

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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