Nice round numbers

Naughty nought
Naughty nought

HERE'S a quote from today's BBC news. "The UK's banks should be forced to publicly disclose the number of their employees who earn more than £1m a year," according to a government report. One million pounds. Exactly. One million pounds. Nice round number.

Similarly, Southend-on-Sea council wants to charge restaurants and cafes in the borough £250 for every table and four chairs outside their establishments. This unfair figure was then 'revised' down to a less unfair £100, because, a council employee told me, "it was thought that £250 was too much". So where was the justification? How do you arrive at a nice round figure. Break down all the costings involved, all the man hours and overheads and arrive at exactly £250. Or exactly £100. I contacted the council, told them I was a journalist and asked them to justify both or either amount. They either couldn't, or wouldn't. Anyway, they didn't.

Whether it is £250 or £100, or £1 million, those evil little noughts at the end always make me very suspicious. Maybe we're all daft and can't cope with the little numbers at the end. But rounding up (never down) has become part of life. No-one bothers to add up the cost of shopping before shopping, taking exactly £19.26 with them. No, you take a £20 note. And the newspapers help you, too. A headline reading that Jordan's latest mammary enhancement has cost £1 million is easier to read than £967,124. And it's easier to fit in the headline. And the journalist made it up in the first place.

The population of the UK is 61,399,118, but only the lonely chap who has just sat next to you in the pub would say this. It's 60 million. But only when we talk about money ie you spending yours and somebody else spending it afterwards, that it comes down to decimal points.

It's the way we speak: "Can you lend me twenty pounds." Not £19.96. Our noughts are friendly, communicative, we round ourselves up or down or off, our noughts are near-noughts.

But 60 million of anything will never be 100% accurate. I make it 97.56893423 %.

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