Performance Perspectives Blog

Who’s on zero?

by | Jun 26, 2013

In this month’s soon-to-be-published TSG newsletter, I comment a bit about the decision not to have a 2015 edition of the Global Investment Performance Standards (GIPS(R)), and provide the results (meager as they may be) from a mini (talk about an accurate term!) survey we conducted. I also cite comments from two colleagues, one who remained nameless and the other, who we’ll call Carl, because, well, that’s his name! (Carl Bacon)

In last month’s issue, I commented how one change I’d make would be to renumber the sections; today we have a section zero. Carl acknowledged that this numbering idea was his (recall that he also favors geometric attribution, opposes money-weighting, and insists on driving on the wrong side of the road), and defended by referencing the presence of “Floor 0” in some hotels (in London, of course; n’er in the US of A) and how a stop was added on the King’s Cross station, which was numbered zero.

I decided that I would comment a bit here, and thought about Abbott & Costello’s famous “Who’s on First” skit or routine:

The number zero has a very clear meaning which is nothing. That is, it means nothing (now I’m sounding like Abbott!). Of course it has a different meaning when paired with other numbers (e.g., buying a car that sells for $50,000); clearly the zeroes here don’t mean “nothing” (well, technically they do, of course, if we were to do the math this way: 0×1 + 0×10 + 0×100 + 0×1,000 + 5×10,000).

There’s a simple reason why first base in baseball is called “first base.” Because it’s first.

If you visit Carl’s home (which I understand is quite historic and almost as old as our friend Steve Campisi), I doubt that he would say, upon entering, “this is our floor zero.” No; he’ll tell you “this is our first floor.”

I’m at the Marriott in Stamford, CT this week, conducting (coincidentally) a GIPS verification, and will admit that their first floor is not technically the first floor; they use this (as they do in England) to represent the first floor that rooms are on. BUT, do they call the first floor (that you enter when you walk into the hotel, which is not numbered “1”) floor zero? No, it’s the “lobby level.”

When a baby is born, do we say that they’ve begun their 0-th year? No, it’s the start of their first year. Do children begin school in grade zero? No, in the first grade; which, in many cases, is preceded by Kindergarten and pre-K.

In the U.S. we occasionally see exit numbers changed on highways, which can be confusing to many who have grown used to the numbers (New Jersey is well known for us residents referring to the NJ Turnpike or Garden State Parkway exit our home is near). However, in time we get used to the new numbering, and may forget that there was anything that was done previously.

When merely introducing a new exit, where the exits it’s going between are numbered sequentially (e.g., 8 and 9), it’s common to add a letter to the new exit, with one of the ordinal numbers (e.g., 8A, which, for example, is the case on the New Jersey Turnpike). If New Jersey decided to add an exit between the start of the turnpike and exit one, I suspect they’d have to scramble to come up with a number (perhaps they’d make it 1A), but I doubt very strongly that we’d see Exit 0.

The differences between the USA and UK, at times, seem to grow. There are certain things we all know about (the differences in the side of the road we are on, the fact that we have an accent and they don’t, the differences in how certain words are spelled (e.g., “color” vs. “colour”), the different ways we pronounce certain words (often we use a long vowel and they use a short, or vice versa), the different words we use for certain things (my car has a trunk, while Carl’s has a boot), and no doubt much more). The use of the number zero for a multitude of ways is yet another.

The number zero has a fascinating history, and there are books that discuss it (in case you’re interested and are looking for a “summer” book to read).

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