Why put numbers such as this one (1) in parentheses?

What is the point of putting the “numerical” form of the number in parentheses right after the text version in an announcement? i.e., “The lottery winner will have up to two (2) years to claim his / her prize.” Seems like a throwback to a more simple time, but even a relatively uneducated person knows that seeing the word “seven” equals “7.”

What’s the straight dope, folks?

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is right now.

Legalese is very tradition bound, and verbosity is never considered a fault.

Legaleese would be my guess. Nobody will ever be able to claim that they weren’t given perfectly clear directions on how long they have to pick up their lottery winnings. See http://boards.straightdope.com/ubb/Forum3/HTML/005098.html for our thoughts on contracts not written in “leagalese”.

Another place that superfluous “one” shows up:

The lottery winnings were claimed by one Cecil Adams…

When would it ever say "two (or more) in this context? Is this so we don’t think that two different people with the same exact name had the winning lottery ticket?


From http://www.junketstudies.com/rulesofw/ (the eleven rules of writing), rule #11:

This is supported by http://www.bartleby.com/64/2.html in the section on wordiness:

I didn’t read much further because that site was awfully wordy…

Yeah, but a lot of people do this in everyday writing where legalese has nothing to do with it. I was sitting in a class last night where another student was giving a presentation that used the “five (5) gallons of bile” format. I even made a note that, after The Revolution, this usage will be swiftly and severely punished.

My guess, however, is that legalese started this usage, and people kept it because it seemed formal. Still drives me nuts, though.

They say I got the power, because I got the monkeys.
They are WRONG! I got the power because I am not afraid to let the monkeys loose.

I can see it’s utility for larger numbers. For instance, telling me a job pay fourty-six thousand, three hundred eighty eight dollars and thirty five cents is a lot of words to try and sort out, whereas $46,388.35 can be understood at a glance.

Just my two (2) cents.

“The dawn of a new era is felt and not measured.” Walter Lord

You would still use one or the other. In this case, you’d use the numeral, and not spell it out.

I see it at work a lot in letters our office receives, from writers who think it shows some sophistication. It doesn’t.

Dee da dee da dee dee do do / Dee ba ditty doh / Deedle dooby doo ba dee um bee ooby / Be doodle oodle doodle dee doh http://members.xoom.com/labradorian/

Isn’t there some number that serves as a cut-off point? Numbers less than the cut-off number are spelled out while numbers equal to or greater than the cut-off number are written in numerals. As in “there must be ninety-nine (99) pencils in this box.” As opposed to “there must be 100 pencils in that box.” I think “100” is the cut-off point.


Yep, it’s us hidebound lawyers at work again.

The use of parenthetical numbers is an historical holdover from the days when legal documents were written out by hand. Of course , not everyone has the greatest handwriting in the world, so it became customary to both write out the number, and to use arabic numerals, to lessen the chance that a particular number might be read incorrectly. (This was particularly important in deeds, where the measure of one’s real estate holdings were set out with verbal descriptions. Reading the footage incorrectly could cause some real problems–overlapping property lines, angry neighbors, misplaced spite fences, etc.)

You can also see the phenomenon on bank checks. When you write out a check, you give the amount both in arabic numerals and in “written out” form, to lessen the chance of an error in the amount paid.

In printed documents, I believe it’s fair to say that the continued use of parenthetical arabic numerals is an anachronism.

Someone with better legal knowledge can correct me, but I believe U.S. law says that if the two numbers don’t match (eg. “one-hunded twenty-five (152)” then you are supposed to assume that the text version of the number is the correct one.

Never heard of that one. And what would be the point, if this is law, of EVER putting the figure in? If the figure matches the text, the figure is redundant. If the figure does not match, it is disregarded. Huh?

Dee da dee da dee dee do do / Dee ba ditty doh / Deedle dooby doo ba dee um bee ooby / Be doodle oodle doodle dee doh http://members.xoom.com/labradorian/

Again this is from memory, with no cite, but I thought I’d been told that on a check the spelled out sum is the authoritative one, since it is less likely to be ambiguous than digits. (I.E. poorly written 7’s and 2’s might look alike, but “seven” and “two” don’t)
Thus, the decimal version of the sum is for the convenience of the bank processing the check, but if the values don’t match, you are supposed to assume the text sum is the correct one.

labradorian wrote:

Well, there isn’t any point, these days. Originally, (when handwritten documents were the norm) the point of adding the arabic numerals would have been to provide an assist if the “written out” numbers were illegible (and vice versa - if the arabic numbers were illegible, the handwritten ones might clear things up).

The referenced rule of construction evolved when written documents were the norm, and is still in force today.

I agree that in the world of printed documents, it is a redundancy to include both the “written out” and the arabic numbers.

The purpose of representing the number in both forms is simply to show the double-checked accuracy of the stated amount. This is done for accounting and other financial papers, including cheques. It is not appropriate in regular journalise, that’s why you’ll rarely if ever see it in regular journalise (leters, essays, discourse, prose…).

Originally posted by spoke-:
…when legal documents were written out by hand…to lessen the chance that a particular number might be read incorrectly.

Not under the above-mentioned conditions, nope. See the point?

Actually, if poor memory serves me correctly, the point, I believe, is NOT to just clarify any illigible handwriting, but to also GENERALLY reaccount for the figure given in text. My memeory is that the numeric figure is the principal mathematical representation—with the idea being that even while it’s contained within a flow of text, the mathematical term must be represented in its own language to have the fullest reliable force (particularly in case of ANY sort of question). This is despite the fact that it is more painstaking to write of the number than it is to jot the figures.

So, again, if poor memory serves me correctly, it would legally (going back to archaics) be not the text version but rather the numeric version that would be assumed to be correct in answering any question

Originally posted by ASPA:
Enough of poor memory. Any body have an actual reference from case or stat law?

Having a little trouble there, Aspa?