I'm not a football fan who tracks the AFC and NFC teams through the season, but as part of the "tribe" I am compelled to watch the Super Bowl. The food isn't bad and the ads and the half-time show offer intrigue. But every year, I am utterly confounded by the Roman Numerals.
I realize I may be the last one in the western world to know how to read large numbers written in this system, so bear with me. Now that we have unlimited time on our hands, I researched how to read these numbers during Sunday's game. Tells you how riveting the game was!
I started with the history.
Roman Numerals go all the way back to 800 BC. That's pretty impressive. Used for 1800 years, the system was rooted in standardizing value for trading. I, V, X form the basis of this system and are structured on the shape of our hands. Counting to ten with your fingers is the "I". V represents the space between the thumb and the index finger when we stretch out our hand and overlapping hands render the X.
Next was wrapping my head around LCDM.
That is 50, 100, 500, 1000. CDM I get - centi, deci, mega. L doesn't come naturally at all. I have now repeated LCDM in my head enough times to withstand dementia.
Finally, the secret sauce was knowing that the position of the letter matters.
The letters are additive left to right and you subtract a low-value letter from the LCDM to the right of it and don't repeat a letter more than three times in a row. Armed with that knowledge I was able to write my birth year as M (1000) C(-100) M (1000) L (50) X (10) IV (4) or MCMLXIV aka 1964.
Sheesh, the sheer volume of letters tells you I am tending toward ancient.
When you get to the 100k and million, the notation changes but the letters stay the same. As of today, the pandemic has taken this many lives worldwide (2.3M):
The limiting factor in this system is the lack of zero and fractions. Yet, Roman Numerals are all around us, including in the periodic table and on building facades. I probably won’t make it to Super Bowl C, but too bad I didn't know enough to use this particular letter to my advantage in my younger days!