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I'm writing a fiction novel, and someone casually mentions a .22 rifle. In speech, you would just say "twenty-two rifle" (as opposed to "point-twenty-two rifle").

So, do I write out the number, or leave it as .22?

Edit: I'm talking about this in an American context, but the UK responses were also interesting. Thank you.

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    In BrE we say "point two two". – Old Brixtonian Jan 10 at 5:20
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    Welcome to EL&U. This is largely a matter of style. Adhere to the discipline of your editor, publication, or organization, or in the absence of a house style, adopt a style manual appropriate to your audience and tastes, and be consistent in its application. For what it's worth, I read .22 as twenty-two caliber. – choster Jan 10 at 5:38
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    If you want the character to say "twenty-two rifle" then write "twenty-two rifle". Written dialogue isn't a technical description of the things the characters are talking about, it is the actual words they're saying. – nnnnnn Jan 10 at 6:48
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    When I won a 2nd class marksman's badge in Alleyn's School CCF, it was with a Lee-Enfield .303 rifle converted to .22 calibre (using a 'Morris tube:). The British Army instructors called these weapons 'two-twos'. – Michael Harvey Jan 10 at 8:02
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    Are you interested in US or UK English? There might be a difference. – Mitch Jan 10 at 12:29
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Well, I'm not familiar with firearms, so if I were reading a novel and it said

"He had a .22 rifle," Bob remarked.

then I'd probably pause for a moment while I figured out how to pronounce ".22" in my head. On the other hand, if the novel said

"He had a twenty-two rifle," Bob remarked.

then I'd be able to read it fluently without pausing, and I'd still understand the meaning just as easily.

Of course, not everyone actually imagines the characters speaking. (Perhaps most people don't.) But I don't see any reason not to write this out in dialogue.

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    The advantage with the first version is that Brits can imagine "point 2 2" and Americans can imagine "twenty-two." – user888379 Jan 10 at 13:30
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In any fiction I’ve read, if the caliber of a firearm was mentioned, it was always written out numerically, e.g., “a Colt .45”, “a .22 rifle for varmint hunting”, “a .38 Police Special”, “a 9mm Glock” which are corroborated by almost all examples found via Google Books (Colt .45, 22 rifle )

(I will note that I am American, and virtually all of the fiction I’ve read—mostly ‘thrillers’, SF, or ‘MilFic’—has conformed to American conventions, even if originally BrE [e.g., the Harry Potter novels, which do not mention firearms or their caliber].)

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  • But this is dialog, not narrative, where the conventions might be different. – Peter Shor Jan 10 at 19:25
  • @PeterShor - In what I've read, it hasn't mattered whether the weapon and caliber was mentioned in narrative or in dialogue - it's always been written out numerically (e.g., "What's he got?" "I saw a Colt .45 on his belt, but he's also got some kind of a long gun in a case, which I couldn't identify."). – Jeff Zeitlin Jan 10 at 20:54
  • @Jeff Zeitlin - "virtually all of the fiction I’ve read—mostly ‘thrillers’, SF, or ‘MilFic’—has conformed to American conventions, even if originally BrE" Yup, they often get edited for the US market, especially those which are not aiming to be 'literature', but the reverse is not often seen. – Michael Harvey Jan 10 at 21:32
  • Are you sure? – tchrist May 2 at 3:06
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I have a little familiarity with firearms and I have never heard anyone call a .22 rifle a twenty-two, always a point two-two, with point being optional. My experience of firearms is limited to the UK and Europe.

If I heard (possibly even if I read) the expression twenty-two rifle I might think it was something like a thirty-thirty rifle, in which the first thirty is the calibre (0.30 inches) and the second thirty is the standard load, in grains, of the ammunition.

Then there is the expression thirty-aught-six or 30-06 which is a type of rifle ammunition. Again, the thirty is the calibre, but the aught-six is the year of its introduction to use by the US Army (1906, rather than 2006).

I think that if OP is writing fiction they would be well advised to get this kind of detail right (and therefore stick to .22 or two-two in this case). To people to whom this kind of verisimilitude matters, it matters. To the rest, they won't care either way.

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    Are you from England? I’ve (AmE) only ever heard it pronounced “twenty two”. With or without a following “caliber”. So it’d be formally a twenty two caliber rifle. Or just a twenty-two when you want to go shoot tin cans. It follows along with the forty-five and the thirty-eight. So if writing for American audiences verisimilitude would dictate “twenty-two” :-) – Jim Jan 10 at 15:49
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    H___no. From Scotland. And, as I observed above, my familiarity with firearms is based on this side of the Atlantic. – High Performance Mark Jan 10 at 16:36

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