Vade retro me, XX XX!

Get thee behind me, 20 20!

Yes, I know 2020 is actually MMXX in Roman numerals. But XX XX is 20 20 – how we pronounce the year. And you can’t use XXXX. That would be 40. As would XL. Go figure.

Wonder how to pronounce Roman numerals? I make 20 20 to be “Vīgintī vīgintī.” And 2020 renders as “Duo milia vīgintī.” 40 is “quadrāgintā.” Which grants XXXX and XL equality of outcome.

The Roman mathematical system has its disadvantages. Which you might expect when the numbers themselves are often math problems.

Multiplication alone would destroy the possibility of particle physics. And consider the width of the columns in your Excel spreadsheet, where 1944 would be rendered MDCCCCXXXXIIII. Some sources give MCMXLIV as an alternative, but this is disputed.

The lack of a decimal point, much less the annotation for fractions, would pretty much preclude precision replication of parts. Which makes you think the tolerances on a ballista precluded mass production. This probably did create good paying jobs in windlass carving.

The Roman mathematical system has advantages only in comparison to innumeracy.

The best contemporary advantage I can come up with is that House of Representative staffers preparing budget spreadsheets would suffer enough to maybe balance it. OTOH, like carving windlasses, they’d probably just hire more staff.

For peons, the only thing I can up with is that your ‘12345’ password would be ‘MMMMMMMMMMMMCCCXLV’ – harder to hack. But you wouldn’t be able to remember that password. Which is why you picked a joke password in the first place. And further complicating this whole password thing is that some experts (I don’t know why I think of Dr. Fauci) claim MDCCCCXXXXIIII is the same number as MCMXLIV.

Would you call this system base 10? It is putatively, but it fails some important tests.

Of the first 10 ‘digits’ the Romans had three unique single characters – I, V and X – 1, 5 and 10. Unique single characters that only show up later (L, C, D, and M) bring the total to 7. And they don’t participate in the first 10.

We use 10 unique single characters that represent the numbers in base 10, and they are the first 10 numbers. In binary (base 2) we have 2 unique characters. We have octal with 8. Etc..

For bases after 10 we do emulate the Romans. For example, base 16 (hexadecimal) uses letters. The number of unique single characters is preserved. 16 unique characters – 0 through 9 plus A through F, where A is decimal 11 and F is decimal 15.

But back to 2020.

While the numeric allusion fails, XXXX does get us to an Australian beer brand, 2 Dos Equis, porn videos, and a large clothing size. All of which seem appropriate for this year of working from home; as Aeron potatoes begin drinking at breakfast, watch porn with impunity, commit it on Zoom (I’m not looking at you Toobin*), and grow into their new 4XL T-shirts – the dress code for Zoom meetings. I haven’t checked, but I’d bet trousers have hit a sales slump.

I favor XX XX for the Latin equivalent of 2020. It insistently puts the ‘X’ in Latinx. It is congruent with 20 20 vision, 20 20 hindsight, double vision, and double counting. Respectively; what our public health martinets lack for every aspect of human existence save flawed computer simulacra, what our politicians cannot apply even as evidence of their failed policies becomes overwhelming, a symptom of poor blood oxygenation, and our recent election.

XXXX is an exceedingly rare genetic condition (Tetrasomy X). It is not to be confused with XX XX – which we’ll call double female – a gender classification yet to be appended to LGBTQWERTY. The combatants in the 2020 TERF wars who follow the science of genetics rather than the vagaries of “gender” could use a term for the transition from female to male and back. Women who have been men, after all, are women.

Finally, XX XX reminds me of those ‘Xs’ cartoonists employ on closed eyes to indicate a corpse. An ‘XX,’ then, suggests the cause of death is subject to more subtle interpretation than we might normally expect: “This person was found with an axe buried in their skull, but we found traces of CCP virus RNA on the axe handle. Count it as COVID.”

Oh, well, Happy MMXXI. The century turns 21.

Given how maturely it’s been acting of late, I think we need to hide the beer.

*I think we can discount any claims of some new penis recognition login technology.

2 thoughts on “Vade retro me, XX XX!”

  1. Great post!

    My entry in the “dispute” is that MCMXLIV is correct.

    Regarding anniversaries, XXI is of course the century’s 21st year. That is unless you go to government schools or watch TV. In that event it would be the 22nd, by a form of illogic that pervades this once great nation.