Numerals Matter

A facial expression of total astonishment.

—How a tribe in South America expresses numbers greater than 3, since their language has no word for those numbers (1963 Guinness Book of World Records)

You never know where a great idea will come from. That's why I'd like to start this chapter with a heartfelt thank-you to the Arabs. Let's consider what this summary of Vaporware and Software Technologies Corp.'s six-year financials might have looked like if history had been a little different (Report 1-1).

REPORT 1-1: VASTCo MCMXCVIII–MMIII Financial Highlights

So, is VASTCo doing well? Would you buy their stock? Do you have any idea what this table is saying?

Let's try this again with a slightly different look at the same set of VASTCo financials (Report 1-2).

REPORT 1-2: VASTCo 1998–2003 Financial Highlights

Now this table is a lot easier to understand. As it turns out, VASTCo is one hot company, with revenues growing and profit growing even faster. And the reason this table is so much more comprehensible is because of the Arabic numerals. So what makes Arabic numerals so special?

  • You need to know only ten symbols. In the Arabic numeral system, you need to know only the numerals 0 through 9 to recognize every single number, no matter how big or small. These ...

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