Oh is not a Number

Voice, villain, your address: "six-oh-six south sixth." Sing the tune of your phone: "one-two-three-five-five-five-oh." Turn to Channel "three-oh-three." Mendelssohn was born in "eighteen-oh-nine." Drive down Highway "one-oh-one." The balance due is "forty-oh-five."

"Zero." "Zero." "Zero." "Zero." "Zero." "Zero."

Why must I annul each and every lazy "oh" with a whispered, corrective "zero"? Why is the pleasure compulsive when I begin to voice a calming "z"? Are those who abbreviate the two-syllable "zero" to the singleton "oh" truly dreadful human beings? Am I improving our culture with a murmur that only I can hear?

All irrelevant, since I will launch my zeros into the void, and I will enjoy that release of tension. Particularly insidious are fast-talking radio professionals, repeatedly drilling through phone numbers like "one-oh-one-oh-oh-oh-two." How many drivers have stopped alongside my car at a red light, wondering what song lyrics I could be mimicking with the bubbling imperative "zero-zero-zero-zero-zero?"

"Oh" is not an element of arithmetic. It is a letter, a poetic exclamation, a cry of astonishment. Yet it lounges in our speech as a number with poor posture, a mathematical slouch with its elbows on the dinner table. I prefer my numbers to sit up straight, then politely excuse themselves so they can march in orderly fashion to their computational destiny.

We can be numbers, you and I, though some of us will inevitably degenerate into letters, thence mumbles and slurs. Numbers are a nobler breed, proud of their character, undeterred by their destiny, voicing their fate as well as their source on the morning breeze: "Zero."