British Numbers confuse Americans – Numberphile

British Numbers confuse Americans – Numberphile


LYNNE MURPHY: I am from
upstate New York. CGP GREY: I’m from downstate
New York. LYNNE MURPHY: I live now
in Brighton, England. CGP GREY: And I live
in London now. BRADY HARAN: So how long have
you been in the UK? LYNNE MURPHY: 13 years. CGP GREY: So I’ve been living
here for 10 years. And I’ve spent a lot of that
time working as a physics teacher in secondary schools. LYNNE MURPHY: So if you’re
giving somebody your phone number or your credit card
number, and you’ve got two numbers in a row that
are the same. So my number is 8844
in my office. The British way to say that
would be double 8, double 4. And it would have never
occurred to me to say it that way. CGP GREY: I don’t know about
Americans in general. But I can say that for me, when
I moved to London, I was really thrown by the
double numbers thing for quite a while. LYNNE MURPHY: I would
say 8, 8, 4, 4. I might say 88, 44. But I wouldn’t say double
8, double 4. CGP GREY: When I moved here,
there were two problems. One is the double
numbers thing. And the second thing is that
people say the telephone numbers in a different pattern
than they do US numbers. So it was that different
pattern, plus people saying things like double
5, double 9. I had such a hard time getting
those numbers the first time. And maybe I’m just particularly
slow. LYNNE MURPHY: The thing that
always trips me up is I don’t know whether to say triple
when I get three of those things in a row. So if I had a credit card that
had three 0’s in a row, do I say triple 0? Do I say double 0, 0? Do I say 0, double 0? Do I say 0, 0, 0? I don’t know what to say. I’d love to hear from British
people, some instruction on how to read my credit
card number. CGP GREY: Off the top of my
head, I can’t think of having ever heard triple, but I
wouldn’t rule it out. I don’t actually know. Perhaps your commenters
can let us know if they say triple. LYNNE MURPHY: Another example
is what happens when you use numbers in the thousands, or
numbers with four digits. The president’s address– that’s called 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in American. And I think most British people
would be comfortable with that being sixteen
hundred. But when you get to a bigger
number, Americans are happy to say that is fifty-three
hundred. A British person would probably
call this five thousand three hundred here. CGP GREY: Where I grew up on
downstate New York, pretty much everybody around me would
say fifty-three hundred. Like for example, I know that
my parents will say fifty-three hundred. But for me as a kid, I always
found that a confusing way to phrase that. There’s something about
it that just doesn’t jell in my mind. And honestly, it took me years
and years to really get that. And so in my mind, when I hear
someone say something like seventy-two hundred, I have to
kind of think about it in terms of $100 bills. So again, if someone says
fifty-three hundred, I have to visualize 53 $100 bills
on a table. For me, I always consciously
made an effort to say five thousand three hundred instead
of fifty-three hundred. BRADY HARAN: Which do you
think is more elegant? Fifty-three hundred or five
thousand three hundred? LYNNE MURPHY: Well, five
thousand three hundred is easier to understand. I mean, when I say fifty-three
hundred, I get confused myself whether I mean 5,300
or 53,000. CGP GREY: Even though I think
that fifty-three hundred is linguistically nicer– it sort of rolls off the
tongue more easily– but I like the precision
in saying five thousand three hundred. But I was definitely going
against the tide of people that I lived around. LYNNE MURPHY: Nevertheless,
I find it easy to say. When I’m thinking of numbers,
when I want to say how much something costs. CGP GREY: You deal with
$100 bills in America. Like, it’s not rare to come
across $100 bills. Whereas I don’t think
there are– now, I’m not 100% sure. But I don’t think that there are
100-pound notes that are actually produced. I think it stops at 50. And I have only incredibly
rarely in my life, ever seen someone actually use
a 50-pound note. And it’s always remarkable. Like at a bank, I’ll see
someone pull out a 50. So maybe that’s why as an
American, it’s easier to think in terms of amounts of
$100 bills, right? I have 12 $100 bills. So that’s twelve hundred. I don’t know if that has
anything to do with it. But that might be why British
people are not as comfortable with that kind of phrasing. LYNNE MURPHY: The second year of
the 2000s was two thousand one, in American speech,
generally. But in British speech,
that sounds weird. That sounds American. You’d say two thousand
and one. So two thousand one, two
thousand and one. CGP GREY: This is one of those
cases where, having lived in London for 10 years, and in
particular, having taught in front of classes and being
very used to speaking to British people all the time, I
can sometimes kind of forget these little phrases,
and which way have I always said it. And just naturally thinking
about it, the two thousand and one or two thousand one– which way would I have said
it when I was in New York? I’m not 100% sure. I think I would’ve said two
thousand one, but it’s one of those things that gets kind of
lost when you move from one country to another. Sometimes those little things
can just kind of– you just become uncertain
about how it was. And then you feel like a
crazy person, right? You feel like, I should know how
I used to say things, but you just lose it. But I did look up, after you
mentioned that the two thousand and one– I wanted to see how
Arthur C. Clarke actually says that number. ARTHUR C. CLARKE: Of course,
“Two Thousand and One”– CGP GREY: He’s British, and he
says in interviews– he says “Two Thousand and One” as the
title for his book is the way he always phrased it. I tried to find some audio of
Stanley Kubrick saying the title of the movie. But he’s an incredibly secretive
kind of guy and didn’t do very many interviews
about it. And so I was unable to find any
clip of Stanley Kubrick actually speaking aloud the
name of perhaps his most famous movie. LYNNE MURPHY: If you want to
count out seconds, which people sometimes need to do, a
typical way of doing this is to have a word that you put in
between your numbers to make it long enough that you’ve
got a full second between the two numbers. And the typical way to do this
in American English, or a typical way to do it is to
use the word Mississippi. So 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi,
3 Mississippi. CGP GREY: 4 Mississippi, 5
Mississippi, 6 Mississippi. LYNNE MURPHY: Hopefully,
it’s about a second. I’ve never actually tested it. CGP GREY: I have no idea where
it comes from, except that it’s a fun word to say. And it’s long, so that seems
like an obvious choice to go in the middle. LYNNE MURPHY: Another way to do
it is 1, one thousand, 2, one thousand, which you’ll
notice has a different number of syllables. The 1, one thousand, 2, one
thousand I think is found in both America and Britain. But then in Britain, you’ve
got other ones, like 1 Piccadilly, 2 Piccadilly, 3
Piccadilly, or 1 elephant, 2 elephant, 3 elephant. CGP GREY: I was trying to think
about this, and I don’t think I’ve ever had the
opportunity to hear any of my students count in this kind of
way that you would do, where you’re intentionally
doing seconds. So I don’t know what any of
them would have said. But you asking me about this
is basically the first time I’ve ever heard about Piccadilly
or elephant. LYNNE MURPHY: When I said 1
Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, that’s how I learned it, with
that very specific, sing-song kind of rhythm to help you
count out the seconds. And because I’ve only done this
on the blog, I’ve not actually heard people say 1
Piccadilly, 2 Piccadilly. I’m not quite sure how
they’re singing it. CGP GREY: Piccadilly
I think is OK. It has that same kind of rhythm
as Mississippi, right? So 1 Mississippi, 2 Piccadilly,
3 elephant. Elephant does not work. I don’t think that
works at all. 1 elephant, 2 elephant– it’s so clunky. It’s no good at all. I have to veto that one, but
Piccadilly, Piccadilly seems incredibly similar
to Mississippi. So I’m perfectly happy with
that as a difference. LYNNE MURPHY: But it’s also the
kind of thing that I’ve found people have family
versions of that aren’t used anywhere outside their
extended families. There’s room for lots
of variation. BRADY HARAN: We want to hear
what word you put in between numbers when you count,
to make sure there’s a second spacing. So put comments under
the video. Mississippi, elephant,
Piccadilly, thousand, something different? We want to know. LYNNE MURPHY: People often ask
me, or express astonishment when they get American addresses
that they need to send something to. And the address might be four
or five digits long, the number before the street. So to live at 2787
Main Street, or something like that. Whereas the last place I lived
here was number 7, and my mother always found
that strange. She often wrote it as 70. She just couldn’t imagine that I
really lived at a place that was only number 7 in the
great scheme of things. CGP GREY: It’s funny, because I
never really tuned into the low house numbers thing. I mean, now that you have
mentioned it, it seems incredibly obvious. And yes, I can think of a bunch
of addresses in my life here that were low numbers. And it’s definitely the case–
well, at least it’s the case in New York growing up that I
don’t think there was ever a house number that was
less than 100. So I knew people who lived in
100, or 107, or 109 houses, but I don’t think there was ever
a single address that was below that number. LYNNE MURPHY: Where I’m from,
you never have a single digit. You rarely have a two-digit
street address. So my family is on the first
block of Miller Street, and the first number is 100. Well, it’s about the grid
road system in America. In England, you don’t talk about
blocks the same way you do in America, because
the roads are all higgledy-piggledy and don’t
necessarily make nice squares. But since American ones
typically do make nice squares, what you want in the
system is to have the numbers all match within each block. You talk about the 100 block
of Miller Street. Once you cross the road that
intersects with Miller Street and go on to the next block,
it’ll be the 200 block. So my block of my street where
I grew up goes up to 131. And then it starts over at 200
once you cross the road. BRADY HARAN: So your numbers
get higher quicker. LYNNE MURPHY: Yeah. CGP GREY: It is almost
unbelievable to me that the numbers on one side of the
street don’t have anything to do with the numbers on the
other side of the street. And I still come across this,
and it’s just appalling– right? That you’re walking across the
street, and the numbers on one side are going 3, 5, 7, 9. And you look across the other
side of the street, and the numbers will be 50,
48, 46, right? They’re even, they’re not
aligned, and they’re going in the opposite direction and
it’s just maddening. I don’t understand how this came
to be, why anybody has let it stand for as
long as it has. It is just baffling to me. And the first few times that I
ran across this, that I didn’t realize, like, you have to check
the numbers on the other side of the street, I got
severely lost in London a couple of times, trying
to find places. Because I’m walking down very
long streets in the completely opposite direction, thinking,
oh, I’ll just cross the street when I need those even
numbers, right? And then you get to wherever
you’re supposed to be, you cross the street. And you’re hundreds off from
wherever you were actually trying to get. But you’re still on
the same street. It’s just unbelievable to me. It’s like, I refuse to believe
that humans ever decided to do this on purpose. This isn’t exactly number
related, but I can tell you the thing that I did notice,
that I find is just charming, is the habit of naming buildings
“houses.” So even like, a giant office building
will sometimes have a name. And it’ll be like,
70 Darwin House. But this house suffix, or this
house label for, like, big corporate buildings, or just
council flats, I find is kind of remarkable and very charming
in and of itself. That strikes me as being very
British, where someone could say, oh, I live at
50 Feinman House. But 50 Feinman House is a
gigantic tower block, right? It’s not like a little cottage,
like it sounds. So I do quite like that. I love to explore the city and
just kind of wander around. And there’s always a ton of
construction going on. And in particular, in the past
few years and right now, there’s a bunch of big, luxury
buildings going up, or that have been recently
constructed. And I can’t help but notice that
all of them want to be number one at whatever
they are. So for example, there’s 1 London
Bridge, and there’s 1 Blackfriar’s, there’s
1 Tower Bridge. And these are luxury
buildings. And they always write it
really big on the sign. It’ll say 1 Blackfriar’s. And the other thing that I can’t
help but notice is they always like to write
out the one. It’s O-N-E. It’s never
the number 1. I find that interesting. I assume that somewhere, some
architecture firm decided that this is a kind of luxury
statement. I’d be curious to know
if this happens elsewhere in the world. Because as we discussed, I don’t
think that it can happen in New York, because
the buildings can’t start at 1, right? They have to start at 100. But I’ve noticed that some of
these buildings that label themselves as 1 whatever– they’re in suspicious spots. Where I look around and I think,
I’m not sure that you can really claim that you
are 1 Tower Bridge. There are numerous buildings
here, any of which looks like they could be number
1 Tower Bridge. So I have my doubts
about the accuracy of this number system. Although with the street
numbers, who knows, right? The numbers don’t have anything
to do with anything, so they could just be
all over the place. -So a man walks into a bar. He asks for 10 times more drinks
than everyone else. The barman says, now that is
an order of magnitude.

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  1. As an American, I've regularly heard 2001 as being two thousand and one. But my math (not maths ;D) teachers were all very insistent that "and" represented the decimal point, making it 2000.1 instead.

    And as for telephone numbers, it may have to do with the triple set, triple set, quadruple set arrangement (123-456-7890). It's usually spoken as a count for the triple sets (1-2-3, 4-5-6), but the last four are typically spoken seventy-eight ninety.

    As Churchill said, two countries divided by a common language.

  2. From my experience, British people get offended/disgusted by uses of English other than their own… whereas most Americans don't care as long as the person is understood.

  3. American here. My parents' phone number was double-eight one, triple-two three. Simple, easy to say and remember.

    But whenever I said it that way, nobody understood what I was saying!

  4. I have been British for all of my 46 years, and have lived in various parts of Britain.

    I have never heard of anyone trying to use a word to ensure spacing of a second between numbers, let alone 'Piccadilly', 'Elephant', or indeed 'Mississippi'.

    I don't think I have been living in a cave.

  5. I learned it as separating units such as, 101 dollars and 10 cents. The "and'" separates "dollars" from "cents". I hope no one would say 100 and 1 dollars and 10 cents because that would be incredibly confusing.

  6. Say 53 hundred with an Irish accent and you will understand why US people say it that way. Say 5 thousand 3 hundred with an Irish accent and it just doesn't work!
    2B sure, 2B sure so it is.

  7. In The Netherlands and in most of European countries, it is common to use even numbers on one side of the street and odd numbers on the other side of the same street. And yes, the first house in the streets often begins with a low number…. I bet the first Dutch and Britsh folks how came to New Amsterdam, which later became New York, used the same numeric street digits but gradually some New Yorkers change the whole system, which was logic in it's origin… and now CGP GREY is wandering who made this up and even think it's appalling! LOL…

  8. seconds I count.. one.. and.. two.. and .. threee .. in a slow and deliberate way 🙂 doing music tempos I guess.

  9. I don't like calculating hill-grade percentages. It's easy to find 5% of 1000 meters… but why are miles so strange!?

  10. Numbers under ten will always be written in word format, numbers over ten will always be written in the numbers numerical form.

  11. This video is a comment.
    It’s kind of what you do when you want to say something long and precise below a video and want yourself heard.

  12. In NYC there's 1 Police Plaza which is Police Headquarters. 1 World Trade Center was Tower One of The World Trade Center that everyone seems to forget what Muslims did there. That just 2 places.

  13. It has always irked me somewhat that people say "two thousand and…[one/two/eleven]" etc. For every other date before 2000, we say the first two numbers then the second two numbers. e.g. if someone ask you when did the second world war start, you wouldn't say "in one thousand nine hundred and thirty nine", you say nineteen thirty nine. Hopefully this practice will end in 2020, as twenty twenty, twenty twenty one etc., is far more pleasing to say and hear, than two thousand and twenty.

  14. australian here.
    five thousand three hundred.
    two thousand and one.
    triple zero (although our phone numbers are split up into three groups of three which kinda changes how you'd say it depending on the position (for example 110 001 111 would be one one zero, double zero one, and for some reason saying one one one feels more natural than saying triple one))
    also, in primary school i remember using mississippi, thousand, elephant, and kangaroo to count seconds.

  15. In Germany, we just count from 21 (einundzwanzig in german) up, because it has the right amount of syllabils (until you get to the tenth second, wich would be thirty. Then we just wierdly try to say it slower, because in german it has also two syllabils wich makes it to short). And when you're done, you subtract 20 from what you counted

  16. In portuguese, It' s important to always precisely enphasize the thousand number, the hundred number, the decime number an so on. Nobody would understand "sixteen hundred" without some 😲 surprise… Nice video😊

  17. Regarding the whole 2001 "two thousand one vs two thousand and one" thing, I am in the US and i was actually taught in primary school NOT to say "and," that it makes it incorrect or something.

  18. I'm Italian and that Mississippi/Piccadilly/elephant thing really confused me.
    If you want to count seconds you can either say one… two… three… Or if you're feeling fancy, you can say one second, two seconds, three seconds and so on, like counting sheep.
    I can see why you are counting like this but I didn't know anyone on Earth did that.

  19. You'd think a system set under metric would gel very quickly to think of it as 53 hundreds.

    But I think it has more to do with commonality of denominations. The UK is far from being a physically large state, and maybe speaking of things in terms of thousands isn't as particularly common.

    It may also have some to do with the need for accuracy. I will casually eound time on the clock to the 5-10 minute marks, but still am relatively comfortable in calling 6:22 as "half past 6", even cutting off the 6 if the general hour is understood in context. The US on notoriously focused on efficency, and adding in non-number related words might be considered sloppy and unnecessary.

    It can loop back on simply processing numbers faster, as 72295517 can be read as 7 double 2 9 double 5 17, which is processed as at least 5 numbers in a sequence, or read as 72 29 55 17, which is only 4 numbers of equal length, which is easier to recall long term.

  20. Been in America my entire life. Never heard anyone say "Mississippi" to count seconds. Only "1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4 and a 5…"

  21. In percussion you get people that use words for sounds like the Mississippi thing. It gets hard to count out the numbers something if you have a random accent or a hard to subdivide number of notes so what you play turns into a story. 4/4 .I".l".l".l" .l".l".l".l" .l'.l".l".l".l^ .l'-.l'-.l' turns into something like "alligator alligator mississippiSNAKE peter pan". I learned this way of counting after years of playing and it made things just click.

  22. In school I was taught not to say “a thousand and one” or “a hundred and one” because you say “and” when there’s a decimal

  23. Its cos England is old, streets have been built and knocked down and moved so much in comparison to the US. 11:00

  24. As a New Zealander its weird watching this cause we kinda sit in the middle. I'd never say anything like "fifty three hundred" or even "sixteen hundred" but I would say "triple eight"

  25. Why is I that Americans, are always complaining about something. Its almost like they want us to change our ways, and be more like them. Well I'm sorry, but that will never happen. With the house numbers. (Remember it as this odds go up the road, and evens come back down the road, so you go up one side and down the other) and the "big buildings" having names like "Jameson House' is because it's easier than saying I live at (or work at) building number 37. Flat number (office number) 5. You just say I live at (work at) 5 Jameson House. Its really no that had America! Gawd!

  26. "Double…" threw these people for a loop? Are they simpletons?  The toll-free area code "888" is often spoken as "Triple-8" – that's beyond dispute.

  27. We all say triple zero in Australia for our emergency number. Sometimes "triple oh" – often in telephone numbers we say oh for a zero !!!. Cat and dog for counting seconds – it's as accurate as an atomic clock!

  28. In NYC, we have some buildings that like to write out their addresses in word form, some that just use numbers, and some that use a weird agglomeration of both (looking at you, One57).

  29. I recall counting seconds when playing games as children. Mostly the middle word was implemented not for a precise second, but just to avoid people rattling off one through ten in one breath. We always used words thematic to our gameplay, for instance: "Secret agent" was a common one for hide-and-seek, but I also remember using "zookeeper" and "coconut."

  30. You can say both ways. They're just numbers, and if you find that difficult to understand… oh boy, the level of retardedness

  31. This is so neat. I’m Canadian-so mishmash of cultural influences and specifically western Canadian. So even harder to narrow down where these influences came from.
    I use the double 1 or double 5, I use 7600 as seventy-six hundred, but it’s two thousand one. And as kids it was steamboats. 1 steamboat, 2 steamboat (oddly always singular)
    I have a low house number that has no relation to the next street over. Also have a tendancy to use “O” and zero interchangeably in a sentence like 304 6300 as three O four six three zero zero (or double zero)..could also be I’m just odd.

  32. The two thousand one thing is even sticker than it says here. I was always taught that the word "and" in a verbal number indicated a decimal point. So pi would be "three and one, four, etc." Two thousand and one would be 2000.1 for people who were taught like me. So not only is it a linguistic difference, it's actually a different number!

  33. When I pronounce address numbers, I just say each digit individually

    So like “One Six Zero Zero” instead of “Sixteen-hundred”

  34. I'm Australian and I say Mississippi, but I learnt it off the They Might Be Giants podcast so I think I'm weird in that regard. Most people I know use 'one thousand'.

  35. in germany we have the same "problem" but we easily solved it.

    we used therms like nineteen-hundered(1900) just if we talk about year numbers.
    like nineteen-hundered-twenty(1920) is the year and one-thousand-nine-hundered-twenty(1920) [Euro] you have to pay for the bill.
    or like two-thousand-one(2001) is the year and two-thousand-and-one(2001) [Euro] you have to pay for the bill
    –> very simple, isnt it?
    BTW: all numbers on credidcards or phonenumbers we say as single numbers or combine it to bigger numbers. like one-eight-five-two-two-zero(185220) or eightteen-fiftytwo-tewnty(185220) never heared about someone sayed doubble or tripple. maybe we say "three times the 0" but thats not often.

  36. in germany we have the same "problem" but we easily solved it.

    we used therms like nineteen-hundered(1900) just if we talk about year numbers.
    like nineteen-hundered-twenty(1920) is the year and one-thousand-nine-hundered-twenty(1920) [Euro] you have to pay for the bill.
    or like two-thousand-one(2001) is the year and two-thousand-and-one(2001) [Euro] you have to pay for the bill
    –> very simple, isnt it?
    BTW: all numbers on credidcards or phonenumbers we say as single numbers or combine it to bigger numbers. like one-eight-five-two-two-zero(185220) or eightteen-fiftytwo-tewnty(185220) never heared about someone sayed doubble or tripple. maybe we say "three times the 0" but thats not often.

  37. Never had any trouble with double or with 5300-like numbers. I think it's because I'm an engineer. We're used to many number systems, and choose routinely to represent numbers as letters, like FF instead of 255, because the patterns are easier to see when working with base 2 numbers like 11111111, which we do all day long. When you're used to things like that, it's hard to get tripped up by things like this.

  38. It would be interesting to know how much context influences numbering, For example, I paid thirteen fifty ($13.50) for this T-shirt. I paid thirteen fifty ($1350.00) for my car insurance this year. In everyday conversation I also see context rationale for how other numbers are verbally constructed.

  39. It was very confusing when I heard Brits said "knot, knot". It was way too tempting to reply "who's there".

  40. The street numbers thing isn't always that exact madness.
    They're almost always split odds and evens, but I have encountered a fair few streets that count both from the same end of the street, but you're right that most seem to wrap around at the end

  41. Basically: there are differences between the ways English and American people speak. The English people will be able to understand the Americans. The Americans will struggle to understand the English.

  42. I was taught in school (in the US) not to say “and” when pronouncing numbers. Then again, I was also taught not to say 53 hundred. So who knows?

  43. (Not British) 2001,
    I used to say things like "-and one"

    But then I had teachers/instructors in science and math tell us that saying "and-(number)" meant a decimal, so "Two thousand and one" was "2000.1"

    I think after that, I began using the word "and" to refer to decimals. But that doesn't come up often.

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