English language Uncategorized

A multiplication bee with a sting

Q: I think it’s incorrect to insert “and” into numbers in the hundreds, but a fellow school mom thinks it’s either correct or it doesn’t matter. Her daughter lost in a multiplication bee at school when she answered that 12 X 11 was “one hundred and thirty-two.” The correct answer was “one hundred thirty-two.” (Further info: The kids had practiced their times tables all summer for the contest, but were only told the day before that they couldn’t use “and,” so many of them fell into old habits.) Just wondered what your take on it would be.

A: Gee, that’s a shame about those kids at the multiplication bee. The other mom is right: there’s no grammatical (or mathematical) rule that either requires or condemns the inclusion of “and” in a spoken or spelled-out number in the hundreds. So saying or writing the number 132 as “one hundred and thirty-two” is neither inappropriate nor less than proper English.

No grammar or usage guide I know of has any such rule against this use of “and” in speaking or writing out numbers. In a number of three digits or more, the use of “and” is optional.

In fact, the “and” is generally more idiomatic. I can’t imagine that anyone would say, “Whew, I’ve driven five hundred three miles since breakfast!” (Not very euphonious.) The more natural construction would be, “Whew, I’ve driven five hundred and three miles since breakfast!”

Of course, if the final element were larger – say, “ninety-six” – one would be more likely to skip the “and”: “I’ve driven five hundred ninety-six miles since breakfast!”

But enough about assumptions. When in doubt, always go to the mother lode, the Oxford English Dictionary.

Lo and behold, the OEDs entry for “and” lists this as one of its definitions: “to connect (units or) tens to hundreds (or thousands), as two hundred and one, three thousand and twenty-one, six thousand two hundred and fifty-six.”

The earliest published references we have for this use of “and” are in Old English, from the Lindisfarne Gospels of the late 7th or early 8th century. And it’s been common ever since.

The OED further explains that the “and” in these numbers “is frequently omitted colloquially in North American usage.” Aha! This would seem to imply that including the “and” is the more standard usage, while omitting it is nonstandard (or “colloquial”).

I think that teacher should go stand in a corner, after apologizing to the kids who fell into old habits – very old habits that have been acceptable English since Anglo-Saxon times.

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