Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Time to end the use of Roman numerals

Advertisers, marketers and designers are the only ones still using Roman numerals. Apparently they think it adds an air of class or an epic feel to their works. But using the numerical system of ancient Rome today is just stupid.
The National Football League uses Roman numerals to identify each new Super Bowl because the players are like gladiators in the Roman Colosseum. But the numbers are getting ridiculous and force readers to do math.
The 2014 Super Bowl is called Super Bowl XLVIII. Quick, what number is that?
It’s 48.
X is 10, but, in this case, you subtract it from L or 50 to make 40. Then you add V or 5 and III or 3 to make 48. Yeah, that’s a whole lot easier than calling it Super Bowl 48 or Super Bowl 2014.
Hollywood is one of the worst offenders for using Roman numerals. They use them to make their movies sound more important. So we have “Rocky V,” “Rambo III,” “ Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan,” and “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.” Etcetera etc.
Thankfully the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doesn’t use Roman numerals for the Oscars. Next year’s Oscars will be the 86th Academy Awards.
The matter of whether to use Roman numerals came up recently for me when writing about the video game “Grand Theft Auto 5” and several Samsung smartphones.
Take-Two Interactive Software calls its game “Grand Theft Auto V,” but the packaging also spells out “Five.” Gamers refer to the title as “GTA 5” for short.
As for Samsung, they’ve been inconsistent with product names. Sometimes they use Roman numerals in marketing and other times they don’t. The company was calling its latest smartphone the Galaxy S IV, before it wised up and renamed it the Galaxy S4. Presumably they realized that S IV looked too much like “Siv.”
Some hard-line editors will say that a name is a name and that’s it. I disagree when it comes to Roman numerals.
The AP Stylebook even says that Roman numerals should be used “sparingly,” primarily when referring to wars and to establish personal sequence for people. It also can cover some legislation and for Super Bowls, the reference guide says.
Personally I’d be in favor of changing all Roman numeral usage to today’s Arabic numbers.

Photo: Screenshot from “Grand Theft Auto 5.” 

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