Today was a good day. I know that today was a good day because, after finishing work more or less on time, I had enough energy and concentration left in me to do some reading all the way home. This is good because usually I’m either too tired or distracted, and cannot focus long enough to read more than a few pages.
Can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this in a previous post already, but my current commute book is “The World According to Garp” (by John Irving). I’m finding it to be a very interesting book so far, to say the least. It’s written quite well – it’s so easy to read – but it’s also incredibly random. More than once I have found myself thinking, “what did I just read…??”
But I’ll write more of a review of it after I’ve finished the full book.
When I was reading it on the bus this evening, I came across the number “1158” in a sentence. For some reason, that tripped me up a bit. I felt like, in that brief second when my eyes scanned over that number, my mind couldn’t decide if it wanted to read it as “one-one-five-eight” or “eleven-fifty-eight” or “one thousand, one hundred and fifty-eight”. The final option sounded better in the context of the sentence (it was about how many pages of manuscript one of the characters had written) but because I’d considered the first two options, I lost a bit of reading momentum.
This is where I almost got distracted and didn’t continue reading. Almost.
I put a mental post-it note on the topic for later revision. What I was interested in wasn’t why I’d considered those first two options (it’s kind of obvious if you know my line of work – I spend all day dealing with numbers in the thousands, and it’s just quicker to read the digits than to read the number in full). What I was interested in was how people say numbers in a certain way.
This kind of relates back to that post from last week about listing things …and also kind of doesn’t. I mean, reading the number “1158” is sort of like reading a list: one thousand, one hundred and fifty-eight. Sure, the order is kind of pre-determined because that’s the order of the digits and whatever. But, theoretically, you could also say “fifty-eight, one hundred and one thousand”. It’s just that no one does that because it sounds weird and is confusing. I suppose it sounds less weird if it’s a two-digit number, such as “one and twenty” (21), and the writing style/context suits it.
But that wasn’t the end of it.
I started thinking about other numbers – mostly about numbers without any “tens” or “ones” (gee, I mustn’t have used those terms since, like, grade two), such as one thousand, five hundred (1500). Why don’t people say “one thousand and five hundred”? If it was 5043, it would be read as “five thousand and forty-three” (the “and” mightn’t be properly enunciated, but it’s still there).
So much to ponder about, so little time. Have to go to bed so I can be awake enough to read on the commute tomorrow.