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When talking about money, people often write "$1", but read this as "one dollar", rather than "dollar one". (Same with "£1" and "one pound"). Are there any other situations, besides currency, in which items are written in a different order in which they are spoken or read aloud?

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  • £10, €20, ¥30...
    – Hugo
    May 2, 2012 at 9:09
  • 3
    Big C with a number inside, which is read as "16th century" (or whatever the number happens to be).
    – user16269
    May 2, 2012 at 9:09
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    @David Huh? I've never seen this notation. Can you point to an example?
    – Jay
    May 2, 2012 at 13:52
  • Yeah, I've always wondered why we don't write 1$. We do write cents that way, i.e. we read "ten cents" and write "10¢". Anybody know if there are other countries that read and write in the same order, either way?
    – Jay
    May 2, 2012 at 14:03
  • @Jay, actually, I've had a bit of a look and I can't find an example online of the "number inside C" notation. However, to prove that I'm not making it up, I did find help.lockergnome.com/office/… and uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090912113604AAAabDv - but I realise that this isn't particularly satisfying. Sorry.
    – user16269
    May 3, 2012 at 5:26

3 Answers 3

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Sometimes this happens with other units of measurement, particularly when the unit is squared. That is, we might write "12 ft2", but say "twelve square feet," or "10 mi2" as "ten square miles."

This example isn't as universal as currency – that is, no one says "dollar one," but some might say "ten miles square."

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  • 6
    But "10 miles square" is not the same as "10 square miles". "10 miles square" is usually understood to mean a square that is 10 miles on each side, i.e. 100 square miles. mathforum.org/library/drmath/view/58423.html
    – Jay
    May 2, 2012 at 13:57
  • Oh, and note that the "ft^2" notation is pretty much limited to scientific circles. It's very handy, especially when you get into complex units like kg m^2 sec^-2, or when you're doing calculations, but I suspect most people would not understand it.
    – Jay
    May 2, 2012 at 13:59
  • @Jay: Perhaps usually, but certainly not always.
    – J.R.
    May 2, 2012 at 14:22
  • @JR That's why I carefully wrote "usually". :-) But I don't get the point of your example: it confirms what I said. DC is 10 miles square, i.e. 100 square miles. Or it was until a chunk of the land was given back to Virginia, now it's more like 64 square miles.
    – Jay
    May 2, 2012 at 16:17
  • @Jay: You're right, my counterexample only confirms your point! D'oh! Thanks! Good catch - both times.
    – J.R.
    May 2, 2012 at 20:11
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Whether you write the symbol first also varies between countries, sometimes even with the same symbol so you can have 10€ and €10 - it's a real pain when internationalizing software.

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As user16269 (aka "David") pointed out in a comment five years ago, some dictionaries identify centuries with a notation in which a capital C precedes the number of the century in question, even though we would normally say the number before the century. Consider this entry for the noun lace from Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, eighth edition (1984):

lace, n. Strong liquor, esp. spirits, added to tea or coffee: coll. >, ca. 1750, S.E.: C.18–20, ob. Spectator, no. 488 (i.e., in 1712).—2. By inference, sugar: C.18. Ex the v.

Here is how we might recite the content of this entry if we were reading it aloud in complete words so as to make it as coherent as possible:

lace, noun. 1. Strong liquor—especially spirits—added to tea or coffee. Originally colloquial use, but by circa 1750 it had become Standard English. Current during the the eighteenth to twentieth centuries, now obsolescent. The word appears in this sense in The Spectator, number 488 (published in 1712). 2. [By inference from meaning number 1,] sugar. Current during the eighteenth century. The noun sense of lace comes from the verb form of the same word.

As you can see, Partridge uses "C.18–20" to signify "eighteenth to twentieth centuries," and he uses "C.18" to signify "eighteenth century". He is by no means the only lexicographer to use this type of notation, but it is not especially common in recent dictionaries; for example, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionaries use the notation "15c" to signify "fifteenth century". (Partridge's first edition was published in 1936, and he and his successors stuck with his original notation style through all the subsequent editions.)

In any event, this is an example of the "C.##" style that user16269 correctly noted long ago.

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