Commentary: Where Have All The Zeroes Gone?

Where Have All The Zeroes Gone?

By J.A. Hitchcock

. . .and I don't mean those Japanese World War II airplanes. I'm talking about the number, you know, 0. What did you say? Did you say, "Oh?" Aha! I caught you! Just as I've caught countless others.

So tell me, when did a number become a letter? Was there a memo that went around the world to everyone except me?

I've seen it happen more times than not: I'll be on the phone with someone, they'll ask me for my phone number and I will pointedly say (no, this is not my real phone number), "Two- one-two, four-zero-zero, five-five-five-five."

They'll repeat it back to me like this, "Two-one-two, four-oh-oh, five-five-five-five."

Wait a minute here. I said it the correct way, then it gets repeated back to me incorrectly. Oh, my, what has this world come to? Or should I say, "zero my?"

It's like a B movie, it's everywhere! When sports scores are announced, I rarely hear the sportscaster say, "The California Angels beat the Red Sox fourteen to zero (okay, I have my fantasies)." More than likely it's, "The California Angels beat the Red Sox fourteen to oh.

Uh-oh. I mean, uh-zero. Sheesh, I don't know what I mean anymore!

What got me started was when I interviewed someone in Japan for an article I was writing for a print magazine. The fellow asked me for some numerical information and as I gave it to him, an "oh" slipped out instead of a zero. He paused for a long time, then asked me what a letter was doing in the sequence of numbers I had given him. I told him it wasn't a letter, it was a zero.

He said, "Well, why did you not say that in the first place?"

This got me to thinking, well, why hadn't I? That's when I became severely conscious of the way people said numbers. Nine times out of ten a person would say "oh" instead of the number zero. I finally asked one telephone salesperson-type why she said it that way. I think I threw the woman off her little script.

"Well, I, uh, don't know." She was obviously flustered. "Is it that much of a problem to you?"

Yes, I guess it is. . .now. I find myself cringing every time I hear an "oh" substitute a zero. I even blasted my husband when he did it and he looked at me like I was crazy.

"I don't see you spelling the word horse, h-zero-r-s-e," I blurted out.

He thought a moment, then laughed. "You're right, I never thought of it like that before."

Soon I had him correcting people when they spelled instead of numbered.

I've created a monster.

But, think about it. How many times have you said a number with a zero in it as an "oh" instead of zero? See? You DO do it!

I say let's start a campaign against "ohs." I know -- we'll call it "The Return of Zero." Hey, we could do a movie, get George Hamilton to star in it. . .oh, stop groaning.

It's either that or combine the two and create a new word -- zeroh. Then, every time you spelled out a word with an "o" in it, you'd have to say or write "zeroh" instead. The same with numbers. A pain in the butt, right?

Now I see my plan has taken effect (evil laugh). You are beginning to see the light! And I can bet you one thing after you read this -- you're never going to hear a number the same way again. The minute someone says the dreaded "oh" instead of "zero," I can just see you correcting them as they look at you like you've got two heads. At least I won't be alone anymore. Unless you really do have two heads.

So, next time you repeat your phone number, social security number or any number with a ZERO in it, please say ZERO, will ya? I want to stop cringing. My shoulders ache enough as it is.

J.A. Hitchcock is a regular contributor to Compute Me. Visit her web site at

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