Why are numbers given in numeric and word form in some manuals?

It was the thread titled “Why Soak lenses for at least four (4) hours?” that brought this back to my mind.

Why must I insert two (2) batteries into my clock and shake the can vigorously for three (3) minutes? (or is it 3 (three)?)

What is the reason for this style of writing in technical documents? - it can’t be a literacy thing, can it? - surely if someone was not able to read the number in one or other form, they would have extreme difficulty understanding the entire document?

I always thought that was silly. I think it might have to do with an exact quantity and you want to stress the exactness.

You are more likely to see “use four (4) ozs of X” then “use about four (4) ozs of X” (and much less likely to see “use four (4) ozs and give to opal”

It originated, I think, in contracts and other legal documents, such as negotiable instruments. Notice that you write the amount on your checks twice.

In an episode of ER, a Spanish-speaking patient misread “once” for the Spanish word for 11 and overdosed on medicine.

I think it’s a clarity thing.

I thought there was a grammar rule about spelling out numbers ten (10) and under.

Was it Douglas Adams who said “Whoever calls something completely foolproof is underestimating the ingenuity of complete fools.”

It is intended to eliminate confusion amongst the foolish.

It’s done in legal documents for a very good reason – makes it harder to alter the document.

If you say you’re paying $10 for something in a contract, it’s easy enough to add an extra zero or two. Spelling it out prevents this sort of thing.

For most technical documents, though, there is no need for it. Usually the writer does it because he has seen this sort of format on legal documents.

Blue Sky – you do usually spell out numbers ten or under (some sources say under 100), unless the number begins a sentence. But that’s style, not grammar.

“And the Lord spake, saying, ‘First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin. Then, shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shalt be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shalt be three. Four shalt thou not count, nor either count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thou foe, who being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it.’”

Additionally, the older typewriters used the lower case L for a one and the letter O for zero. Protocols to avoid confusion when using those “numbers” might have been expanded to simply dictate the numeral/word pairing on all documents at all times.

Does anyone have an example of when the practice originated?

I’ve seen this done in standardized tests. Why?

That is, a test like the GMAT or CFA exam will say in the instructions, “After completing page lo, please proceed to page ll and then page l2”. Except it looks like the “numbers” are written in small caps. Again, why?

'Cause they were typed up by some really old clerk who was simply used to ignoring the one and zero numerals?

Sorry, I have no idea why they would do that. (Shipped a master copy to an off-shore print setter who did not recognize the numerals and used the letters?)

Nitpick - the proper typographic term for these characters is “figures,” not “numerals.” Don’t ask me why.

Well hey! Now the phrase “figure eight” makes more sense. Interesting.

My old Royal typewriter in my youth was like that, but I changed quickly enough when I got into computers.

Now… it drives me crazy! It’s hard as hell to deal with bad numbers at work because some bozo writes the letter l and the letter O instead of the digit 0 or 1. “Gee, why doesn’t this part come up in the system?”

RealityChuck, I think that, on a cheque at least, the words describing the amount take precedence over the figures: if they differ, you go by the words.

Doghouse Reilly, there are in fact “upper case” and “lower case” figures.

The figures that are all the same height as an uppercase letter are uppercase figures.

The figures that are of varying height, with the zero and one being the same height as a lower-case letter ‘o’, and the nine projecting below the baseline, and the six and eight projecting to full height… those are ‘lower-case’ figures.

The ones you were describing were probably lower-case figures. It’s just a matter of the typographical style chosen for the text. (Note that you don’t get these upper-case and lower-case fiogures by shifting the number keys. You have to specifically choose the font that includes them.)

Yes, these are called “old-style figures” – the main body of the figure is of x-height instead of capital-height. 3, 4, 5, 7, and 9 have descenders and 6 and 8 have ascenders. The 1 looks a little like a small capital “I.” I prefer to use these kinds of figures in all cases except in scientific texts or tables. They flow much better with the text and have more artifice than full-capital-height figures. Unfortunately, since computer-aided typography denied publishers the use of these figures for a long time, most general-distribution publications have forgotten about them. Many book publishers still do use them and they’re most likely to be found in typeset novels.