Asked and Answered: Why Do Seattle's Sidewalk Clocks Mark Four with "IIII" Instead of "IV"?


Wait- I need to read the rest of the entry about elephants and tobacco.
I bought that book at a yard sale about a decade ago. One of my best purchases ever.
@1: Seriously! Elephants resenting being fed tobacco? What?
But you were in a hurry, promptly forgot about it, allowed years to pass as if in a dream, went to college, fell in love, fell out of love, lived in several different cities, then came back to Seattle, and only remembered that question today as you were walking downtown, looking at clocks and reminiscing about your lost years.
Only today, and that one other time.
I always like the (probably untrue) answer that it made for efficient molds for the mass production of clock-faces:
Using IIII may have also made work a little easier for certain clock makers. If you're making a clock where the numerals are cut from metal and affixed to the face, using IIII means you'll need twenty I's, four V's, and four X's. That's one mold with a V, five I's, and an X cast four times. With an IV, you'd need seventeen I's, five V's, and four X's, requiring several molds in different configurations.
Used to be on the Summit Top Pot shelves when they first opened; we'd read it every time we had morning coffee there.
When I was in elementary school (late 60's) I was taught that in Roman numerals both IIII and IV were acceptable ways to express 4.
@5 I don't know why you think that answer is "probably untrue" - it's by the simplest explanation out there.
I love is post. Thanks.
Besides the fact that "it is said since 1370" with absolutely no historical record, the complete ignorance about roman numerals is interesting. The impressive part is how someone can spend time doing research on the subject without finding any useful information on the internet. I personally know the entire content of my favorite book and do not need to go find any answers in it because I'm already aware of it's content. So unless this was a purely fictional article, there appears to be a complete lack of writing integrity and purpose. And while the fact that I'm commenting on such pointless dribble is slightly more irritating than reading the article was, the reference to tossing the Bible aside for a book of no intellectual benefit while closing with "Amen" tops it. And thanks for taking the Lords name in vain just because you can. I almost thought the writer was a Baptist preacher wearing a confederate flag until I was shown how liberal and edgy he could be. Close call. I heard Kim Davis meet with the Pope, I expect another quality article covering this subject. I recommend reading Extraordinary Origins for Everyday Thing, I Fish Therefor I Am, and Aesop's Fables to answer the rest of your lifelong questions.
I was told (by more than one person) that a IV partially upside-down looks too much like a VI right-side-up; hence confusing the eye if one is trying to read the time. It doesn't make a lot of sense, since we read the time based on angles really, but there it is.
@11 I like that, but it's not consistent since XI and IX both share the clock dial as well. Why is it only IIII and not VIIII also? *THAT* is the bigger mystery. I think silly tradition is just the best answer at this point.
@11 I like this answer, but it doesn't account for the fact that IX and XI both share the dial too. I think we just have to assume it's silly tradition that uses IIII but not VIIII as well (as well as why we'd bother with roman numerals at all on clocks in the first place).
Nice! Browser glitch allows me to write a second draft. Just pick which one you like better of @12 or @13. :)
This is the best thing I have read all day.

@12/13 Please! Traditions are many things, but they are not silly. On the contrary, the small ones, like this one, are the delightful spice of life.

The big ones are the accumulated distilled wisdom and consensus of those 30 ghosts standing behind us about the best way to live life. Circumstances can and do change, especially in these revolutionary times, but we should never be so quick to dismiss tradition.
The King Charles reason rings so very true to me, because I have worked for that client. After the first few go-rounds, I learned to incorporate a trivial mistake (leaving the area code off the phone number or something) so the client would have something to be "right" about (with "right," in her world, requiring someone else to be simultaneously "wrong"). Saved me from a lot of debates about color palettes and effective copy.
Who is the author of that book? Amazon lists two with that title.