From our earliest introduction to education we were taught that the letter O is oh and the
numerical zero is 0.Some of us were taught by rote that 1×0=zero and 2×0=zero etc. We were
also taught that oh is a letter, a word and a sound as in O, oh no and oh. As we welcome our
immigrants and encourage them to take English as a second language we continue to teach these
fundamentals and drill them into our new American citizens.
Despite all our early learning my ears continue to pick up car advertisers blaring out “come and
see our new “oh 7” Toyotas or our new “oh 7” Hondas”. In the supposedly more intelligent
setting of CNN, ABC and NBC I hear the anchor people talk about Obama in “oh 8” and Hilary
in “oh 8”. Can you see the intrusion of the oh into the province of the zero? Since Jerry Seinfeld
hasn’t picked up the cause I have decided to jump in.
There is no denying we are in the digital age. If anyone doubts it, let he or she use an oh instead
of a zero when trying to register your car, making an on line purchase with a credit card or typing
an email address. If you do make a purchase on line and substitute an oh for zero the
computer screen is going to reject you very quickly. In spite of all these constant reminders that
you shouldn’t substitute oh for zero; a day doesn’t go by that you don’t come across that
intrusive oh trying to gain more and more ground. Even the bastions of the digital age, the
drivers of the information highway who led us into the 21st century-Verizon and AT &T have
succumbed to the lazy oh phenomenon. Call up information for a telephone number and beware
if it has a zero because most of those operators are going to tell you the number is 949-136oh.
Our poor immigrant friends are going to dial that number and get a wrong number. The second
time they are going to dial it and get an earful of rudeness from the other end. When they realize
their error they are going to sigh and say, oh, not zero, but oh. See how zero doesn’t intrude into
the province of oh.
In the classic movie “Going My Way”, Bing Crosby tells the departing pastor to dial oh for
O’Malley if he ever gets in trouble and in those days it would have worked. In the early days of
party line telephones, an oh would work because many of the exchanges were letters. My own
exchange in Jersey City was Oldfield. Our phone number was OL- 8-2158 so you would dial the
oh and ell as a number. Perhaps our current ineptitude in this area is an outgrowth of the old
letter exchanges, but that was over 40 years ago, folks. Certainly our learning curve is higher
than that. Also, we have had thousands of other quaint customs and practices which we outgrew
and changed why does the oh persist and continue to infringe into the property of the zero.
Once my campaign for fairness and correctness takes steam this matter will be settled. However,
if it is met with opposition I have plans to meet intrusion with intrusion. How will people like
Jell-zero or Bing-zero. What about “Zero ye of little faith” or “zero brother”. People will stop
and think twice, in fact they may be confused whether to say oh, boy there he goes again or “zero
boy”, there he goes again. Some people will say this is much ado about nothing but not this
crusader. The slogan of the campaign will be “zero tolerance”. The zero has to stand tall and
defend itself or it will remain just a “zero”.
In the year 2010 there will be a frenzy to sell off the remaining “oh 9’s” and for several years
after there will be great deals on dealer certified “oh 7’s”, “oh 8’”s and “oh 9’s” but finally we
will reach a point where the abuse of the oh for autos advertising will diminish. I checked some
archives to see if this arrogance of the oh existing during the early 1900’s. As expected there
wasn’t any auto advertising or any references to zero that were supplanted by an oh. So it is a
more recent phenomenon which is surprising in the current digital age. Nevertheless, I vow to
continue the fight to right this wrong and hope all my efforts aren’t for nil.
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