Computers or Europeans, or both, are increasingly taking over our lives. One aspect of computerspeak--the requirement that numerals be computer-enterable--has distorted our ability to use a single numeral. An advisory neighborhood commission in D.C. Ward 1, for example, is no longer "ANC 1--," but "ANC-01--," because the computer abhors a vacuum.
That's bugged me for some time. So has the tendency of young restaurant servers (who may have spent time in Europe) to put a horizontal slash across the stem of the plain number "7" when toting up my bill. I spent many young years riding the No. 7 streetcar line in my home town, and it never required a cross mark to be identified.
And now comes the computer I'm using to write this column, which--on the paper printouts but not on the ultimate published version you're now reading-- differentiates between the letter "O" and the numeral "0" by putting a diagonal slash through the numeral.
This screed was provoked by an item Monday in The Baltimore Sun, reporting on a preview of our neighboring city's subway system, slated to begin operations in early fall. Visitors were permitted to punch the fare-vending machines.
Muffet Robinson, demonstrating a machine, told a visitor, "The machine tells you to put in 80 cents."
"That looks like 88 cents to me," said the visitor, eyeing a bifurcated zero.
"Yes, but that's because the 0 has a slash through it in computers," Robinson explained, sort of.
A Maryland Mass Transit Administration spokeswoman said yesterday that the fare-vending system was made in Europe, where they routinely slash their zeroes.