Adventures in Ethics and Science

Sadly, this makes me think more kids should have been watching M&M commercials in December of 1999. As reported by the Gainesville Sun:

Proofreaders at the University of Florida appear to have failed the Pepsi challenge.

UF has called off a massive giveaway of Gator T-shirts, paid for by Pepsi, upon realizing that Roman numerals intended to denote the year “2006” on the shirts actually translated into “26” in standard Arabic numerals.

“The giveaway was halted,” said Mike Hill, UF’s associate athletics director for external affairs. “We identified the problem on the first day of distribution and the giveaway was halted.”

The T-shirts, distributed to about 4,000 students picking up football tickets Tuesday, were also scrutinized by Pepsi proofreaders before distribution. Neither party noticed the problem initially, but staff distributing the shirts and the students who received them discovered the error Tuesday, Hill said.

To denote the year 2006, the shirts should have featured the numerals “MMVI,” not “XXVI.”

Granted that “26” and “2006” are just separated by a couple of place-holding zeroes — if you’re working with a number system that has ones, tens, hundreds, and thousands places. With Roman numerals, though, you’re adding it all up (with the occasional kicking back from the sum — IV being five less one, for example).

But here’s where etymology could help a lot. If you know that M stands for “mille” and “mille” indicates a thousand (which is why 1000 millimeters = 1 meter), you’d never think of getting to 2000 with anything other than MM.

And that’s why kids today need to start taking Latin again!


  1. #1 Bill Hooker
    September 5, 2006

    that’s why kids today need to start taking Latin again

    You do know that this sentence marks you as capital-O Old, right? (Never mind that I agree, I too am Old.)

  2. #2 J-Dog
    September 5, 2006

    And no mea culpa from the University or Pepsi. I guess it’s all about carpe errata.

  3. #3 Bob O'H
    September 5, 2006

    I guess it’s all about carpe errata.

    Oi! Don’t blame the fish!


  4. #4 Thomas Winwood
    September 5, 2006

    I took Latin at school. You don’t learn Roman numerals in it – you’re too busy learning the language. Roman numerals are common knowledge in this country.

  5. #5 Abel Pharmboy
    September 5, 2006

    As I said over at Chad’s Uncertain Principles:

    “Actually, those in the know will recognize this as a subversive celebration of Florida’s State Road 26, also known as University Ave during its course through Gainesville. SR26 is the main strip that forms the northern border of campus and is home to such academically-rich watering holes as the Purple Porpoise Oyster Pub.”

    Not that I went there or hold any advanced degrees from the institution…

  6. #6 Mikey
    September 5, 2006

    Arabic Numerals? I believe you mean Freedom Numerals, pinko! 🙂

  7. #7 George Kaplan
    September 5, 2006

    Aside from comparison with placeholder-style number systems, is the teaching of roman numerals really that necessary? I know that I spent far too much time learing this in grade school — time that could have been better spent squaring a circle or trisecting an angle. At least our educators give up at the prospect of trying to use roman numerals for, say, adding and subtracting, much less multiplying and dividing!

  8. #8 ArtK
    September 5, 2006

    In re: Latin. It’s not entirely dead in the US. The middle school where my friend teaches requires it in 7th and 8th grades and many kids stay with it after that. Out of a school popluation of about 1200 (K-12), they send 40-50 kids to a Latin convention each year.

    My friend teaches both Latin and Science and spends quite a bit of time on the connections between the two.

    George: Teaching roman numerals may not be necessary, but it is useful. Along with alternative-base systems, it helps lay the ground work for looking at mathematics as an abstraction. It gives a teacher the basis for asking the questions: “What is a number system?” “What is truly necessary for one and what isn’t, and why?”

  9. #9 Unlearned Hand
    September 5, 2006

    Roman numerals still have a useful existance in denoting athletic events and in providing trivia fodder. If the later were not the case, the funding stream of many university Classics departments would evaporate. Trust me.

  10. #10 Janet D. Stemwedel
    September 5, 2006

    I took five years of Latin in school (which gets you up to the erotic poetry). Yes, I’m old as the hills.

    But at least I wasn’t a classics major who picked up his older sister’s copy of Jobs for Philosophers and laughed at the very idea.

  11. #11 csrster
    September 6, 2006

    I once met a philosopher who once walked into his local unemployment office and saw a notice “Philosopher Wanted”. A computer-game company needed a philosopher on a three-month contract for translation work on a game that used some real philosophy-quotes. He got the job and ended up a permanent employee.

  12. #12 Pi Guy
    September 6, 2006

    I think that the best use of Roman Numerals in this day and age is to help kids learn decoding, patterns, and systems’ rules. It’s useless as a mathematics tool.

    It’s the zero that made the Arabic/Freedom numerals a better system for arithmetic and, eventually, algebra. Still, it’s pretty bad that the shirts got out without anyone catching it. You’d think at least one person would have known.

  13. #13 toocool4u
    August 28, 2007

    y we hve to hve a {an} url? idk wat it means and i c it all the time in school,internet,home page,ect.

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