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I was watching Errol Morris' ‘11 Excellent Reasons Not to Vote?’. At some point, the dialog goes this way:

― If I could sell my vote, I probably would.

― How much?

― How much? Psssh... Aaah... Like, one fifty? One fifty?

― Hundred fifty dollars?

Have I listened right? Did she said "One fifty" meaning "One hundred fifty"? In my native language, if one says "one fifty" referring to money this would unequivocally mean "one dollar and fifty cents" so I am not sure I got it right. If I listened correctly, how common and acceptable is this idiom?

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To add to the confusion, in American slang the numbers 150 and 150,000 (whether in currency or not) are frequently rendered as "a buck fifty," as in, "The new company offered me a buck fifty to stay but I can get more elsewhere." –  Robusto Nov 2 '12 at 13:55
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And a "dime" is $10 in drug transactions, and may represent $1,000 in other colloquial situations. –  StoneyB Nov 2 '12 at 13:59
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@FumbleFingers to be honest, I cannot see what the questions have in common. The supposedly duplicated one seems to be about the use of "and" to separate some parts of some numbers. My confusion is mostly about not using the "hundred" in the number. Anyway, if Charles answer is correct (and it seems to be) this is hardly a "general reference" but instead a complex, context-dependent slang. –  brandizzi Nov 2 '12 at 15:24
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Here's another one then. Frankly, I think they're all General Reference. Charles answer is not correct, so far as I'm concerned, since your “One fifty dollars” can never mean $1.50. –  FumbleFingers Nov 2 '12 at 15:58
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@FumbleFingers this seems to be the same situation. I am not asking about the use of "and", as I have noted before. Anyway, Charles never said “One fifty dollars” can mean $1.50; what he said is that “One fifty” can mean $1.50. I cannot assure it is correct but at least ten people agree with him and horatio subscribes to his explanation. Even if this point of Charles answer is wrong, clearly “One fifty” can mean 150 or 150 000, which is still a challenge for interpretation (at least for non-native speakers) –  brandizzi Nov 2 '12 at 16:52

4 Answers 4

up vote 27 down vote accepted

In any discourse, speakers measure numbers of this sort by a (presumably) common standard. On the Chicago Board of Trade, for instance, soybean, soyoil and soymeal prices are quoted on three different scales, but there's no problem, because everyone knows what they mean:

Beans quoted in cents and eighths/bushel, so 1341'6 = $13.4175/bu
Meal quoted in dollars/ton, so 341.3 = $341.30/ton
Oil quoted in cents/pound, so 54.82 = $0.5482/lb

Accordingly, "one fifty" does not "unequivocally" mean $1.50. For instance, if you were buying a new cellphone and the salesclerk quoted a price of "one fifty", you would almost certainly understand that to mean $150, not $1.50.

Observe that in the dialogue you quote, the parties do not share a common standard. The second speaker has to demand explicit clarification.

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I sympathize with @rhetorician's attempt to edit the first sentence. I don't recognize the expression "numbers ... are referred ... to a standard". Maybe it's dialect? Regional? My dialect is American English. –  MετάEd Mar 8 '13 at 0:12
    
@MετάEd OED 1, s.v. Refer … 3. To assign to a thing, or class of things, as being properly included or comprehended in this ; to regard as naturally belonging, pertaining, or having relation to ; to attach or attribute to. But if this use is broadly unfamiliar I will rewrite. –  StoneyB Mar 8 '13 at 0:19

"One fifty" can mean $1.50, $150, $150,000, or other amounts depending on the context (candy, a paintball gun, a house).

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This is true, and in fact the dialog supports this because the immediate response is a request for clarification. –  horatio Nov 2 '12 at 13:53

If you listen carefully, the narrator is not saying "one fifty dollars," which would be quite uncommon. Coincidentally, the quote in question appears at about 1:50 into the clip:

If I could sell my vote, I probably would.

How much?

How much? Psssh… Umm… Like, one fifty? One fifty. (laughs)

A hundred and fifty dollars?

I… I just… I feel like that's even too much. But I wouldn't take any less.

The order of magnitude implied for "one fifty" varies greatly depending on context, which is why the narrator is asking for clarification. Is your vote worth as much as a candy bar? A nice shirt? A (used) Audi R8? The Spelling Mansion? The Rio Tinto mining company?

If we are discussing home purchases, and I say I am looking to buy a house in Northern Virginia for "five-twenty to five forty," I do not mean $520-540 (Detroit might be another story). If I then sigh and say "but nothing near the Metro is going for less than three-quarters," I clearly mean three-quarters of a million dollars ($750,000), not three quarters as in the coins ($0.75). Candy bars might be a different story.

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This is no coincidence, I tried to transcript it :) Neither did I say the narrator said it; instead, I said the woman said it. –  brandizzi Nov 2 '12 at 15:26

Here in India, it is actually common for 'one fifty' to mean 'one hundred fifty'. That is, we are not changing units of parlance in this case like we might change when talking in bigger numbers, e.g. 5-6 instead of 5-6 thousand (talking in terms of thousands, understood by both speaker and listener).

Rather, we are actually dropping the hundred to shorten it to 'one fifty'. I am surprised it is not this way in other places. And curiously, this doesn't follow the pattern of Hindi (dominant language in my area), since equivalent form in Hindi would seem downright wrong, not just odd.

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But I suppose you mean to say that you use such expressions when speaking about sums in rupees. I don't remember the correct exchange rate to the dollar, still I think it's about 1 dollar to 50 rupees. Besides, 1.50 rupees wouldn't get you very far, or would it? –  Paola Nov 2 '12 at 23:56
    
@Paola No, it was just an example. It is common and standard to say 'three fifty seven marks' for 357 marks, 'one twenty sticks' for 120 sticks and so on. But there is a caveat. 101 to 119 are spoken with hundred except 110 (and so on with 201, 301 etc). –  Anurag Kalia Nov 3 '12 at 15:32

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