Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Dad Joke LXXXXI, and a digression on Roman Numerals

What word is always spelled wrong?


And now the digression.  A couple folks left comments to the last Dad Joke pointing out that I used an unusual formulation for the number 90 - this is typically written XC, using what is called "Subtractive Notation".  Here, the ten ("X") is subtracted from the hundred ("C") to denote 90.

However, the Romans were not consistent in how they represented numbers, and there were alternate methods.  I used "Additive Notation" where each ten ("X") is added to the fifty ("L"): 50 + 10 + 10 + 10 + 10 = 90.

There are a bunch of examples of additive notation - Gate 5 on the Colosseum is labeled "IIIII" instead of "V".  To add to the confusion, Roman inscriptions often use both notations - on the Colosseum, Gate 44 is labeled "XLIIII".

And it wasn't just Romans who did this, either.  Here's London's Admiralty Arch.  1910 is represented here using additive notation instead of the more typical subtractive (MDMX):

And this discussion doesn't touch of the really weird and obscure ways of constructing numbers.  To close out a really, really pedantic discussion, I'll end by pointing out that Microsoft Excel has a function to make Roman numbers for you.  ROMAN ( ) will convert your number to roman notation using one of five different notations, so 499 can be representer as CDXCIX, LDVLIV, XDIX, VDIV, or ID.

Like I said, things get really weird, like the 22nd Legion using "IIXX" which caused confusion that we've seen in inscriptions (the stonemason was apparently an educated man and "corrected" the number to "XVIII".  If you want to read about something really weird today, the Wikipedia article will take you down the pedantic rabbit hole.


Aaron said...

Roman Dad Joke Time:

I'm so mad I can’t remember how to write 1, 1000, 51, 6, and 500 in Roman numerals that


Tam said...

Yes, but one format is generally used these days when us pedants who normally only get to show off our MCCCXXXVII knowledge of Roman numerals by reading the title cards on old cartoons for the copyright date.

I did not mean to cause sand in anyone's wageena. ;)

Eric Wilner said...

It's amazing how many abbreviations can be misinterpreted as Roman numerals. Like, I used to have my monitor hooked up using a 506 cable.

... Just for giggles: I have my own implementation of the C library printf() function, written in a day when computers were slow, memory was limited, and the printf() implementation in common use was hopelessly inefficient. Naturally, I included some extra features (as compile-time options), including formatting integers as Roman numerals.

Borepatch said...

Aaron, that's hilarious.

Tam, no feathers ruffled here. It even gave me a chance to break out my pedanticness - and learn that Excel has a built-in function for pedants. Err, I expect that there are many more of those, but this one was on-topic!

Eric, I'm a big fan of Roman Easter Eggs.

Old NFO said...

Ah yes, pendantics of the world untie...

Richard said...

The Wehrmacht used a deviant Roman system too. XXXX Panzer Corps for example.