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Numbers Are Written The Wrong Way Around

Why do we write tha largest units in numbers first? It doesn’t make sense. Instead of writing one hundred as 100, we should be writing it as 001.

English, and most other western languages are written from left to right. But let’s say I want to add 14235 and 31322. I have to start at the left side, at the smallest units. I can’t just write 45557. I have to calculate the seven first, and either remember it, or write it down somewhere else.

However, if we were to write numbers the other way around, things become much simpler. Let’s say I put a chevron in front of reversed numbers. It is placed in a way that indicates that smaller units come first.

Let’s try adding <53241 and <22313. The result is obviously <75554. I didn’t have to remember the smallest unit! I just typed it as I calculated it. The most I have to remember is to carry a one.

Why does our number system exist in this weird state? Probably because western merchants got it from the Arabs. They invented the number zero, which really simplified arithmetic for the merchants. And Arabic is written from right to left.

Will we ever fix this deplorable problem in the way western civilisation does arithmetic? Probably not. After all, in electricity we’re still using conventional current flow, as opposed to electron current flow.


  1. Hmmm… interesting.

    We have calculators though, so arithmetic isn’t all that important any more.

    Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 13:24 | Permalink
  2. Gustav Bertram wrote:

    Arithmetic is still important. Don’t think that calculators can replace the need for that skill.

    Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 13:51 | Permalink
  3. Joy-Mari wrote:

    Arithmetic is indeed important, even if you only use it to keep your brain semi-sharp.

    I still think you should read Outliers, if only to read why most Chinese children excel at mathematics.

    Monday, February 23, 2009 at 21:06 | Permalink
  4. Chris wrote:

    Couldn’t agree more!

    We are writing them the wrong way round. In some languages like Dutch, they don’t even say the numbers in the right order.

    Take 69 for example. It’s obvious that you want to begin with the first number. so you say sixty and then nine, “sixty nine”.

    In the Dutch language, and I’m sure in other languages, they say, nine and sixty (negen en zestig).

    If we take a larger number, like 1337, in english you just read it as you look at the numbers, one-thousand three hundred and thirty seven.

    The Dutch say it, one thousand three hundred seven and thirty.

    I cannot understand why.

    Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 16:33 | Permalink

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