It’s four o’clock somewhere

Roger remembers a detail from his kindergarten classroom:

We had clocks that had Roman numerals; I recall the four was shown as IIII rather than IV.

Along about sixth grade, I asked about why the clock in the hall outside the headmaster’s office was so equipped, and got this for an answer:

Once upon a time, when Roman numerals were used by the actual Roman Empire, the name of the Romans’ supreme deity, Jupiter, was spelled as IVPPITER in Latin. Hesitant to put part of the god’s name on a sundial or in accounting books, IIII became the preferred representation of four.

By Jove, this made sense. Well, maybe:

Of course, IVPPITER wasn’t being worshipped much by the time clocks and watches replaced sundials, but clockmakers may have stuck with IIII just for the sake of tradition.

Or for the sake of doing less actual work:

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.

At this point, you might be forgiven for chucking all this quasi-historical mumbo-jumbo and going digital, though a digital grandfather clock would be somewhat offputting. (If I remember correctly, the Swillmart ad in the Dacron [Ohio] Republican-Democrat of 12 February 1978, actually the National Lampoon Sunday Newspaper Parody, was offering such a clock, and it was hideous.)

Movado Museum WatchI wear a Casio digital. When I get to the point when I get sick of its inaccuracy — damn thing gains about four seconds a day — I have an excuse for finally picking up a Museum watch by Movado:

The Movado Museum Watch traces its roots to the beginnings of the modern design movement and the group of international artists who founded the Bauhaus School in 1919. “Simplicity, tastefulness, function” was their dictum. One of its purest expressions was the black watch dial defined by a single gold dot, designed by American artist Nathan George Horwitt in 1947.

“We do not know time as a number sequence,” Horwitt said, “but by the position of the sun as the earth rotates”. Hence a solitary gold dot at 12 o’clock symbolizing the sun at high noon; the moving hands suggesting the movement of the earth.

It’s as least as informative as the “classic” Infiniti analog clock, which apparently achieved its Classic status about 1997 when Nissan saw fit to delete it from the Q45. (It was restored in 1999.)


  1. fillyjonk »

    12 February 2018 · 4:03 pm

    I remember, as a kid after learning Roman numerals, asking people why some clocks had IIII instead of what I perceived as the “more correct” IV.

    No one could ever tell me. I guess I now know. (Easy and cheaper, I guess, since by the 1970s no one would have cared if you blasphemed Jupiter)

  2. McGehee »

    12 February 2018 · 4:22 pm

    My dad’s cuckoo clock also purported that “IIII” was correct. The clockmaker convenience argument fails because “VI.” Also “VII” and “VIII.”

    I would inquire to the construction process of affixing the numerals to the face. Is this particular task entrusted to steadier-handed apprentices with perhaps less classical education, thus increasing the risk of error?

    Was it just simpler, in other words, to have all the V’s that were used with I’s be in the leading position?

  3. McGehee »

    12 February 2018 · 4:40 pm

    Re this:

    The clockmaker convenience argument fails because “VI.” Also “VII” and “VIII.”

    I’ve never seen old-fashioned German-style cuckoo clocks on which any of the Roman-numeral elements — I’s, V’s or X’s — are separate from the other elements of the numeral; they’re always bound together by the serifs. Casting 28 separate elements adds work in that they must then be put together and the serif linkage added.

    Why not just have a craftsman make a single mold with twelve complete Roman numerals?

  4. Dan T. »

    12 February 2018 · 6:48 pm

    One of the flash-forwards in The Simpsons had Lisa marrying a British guy in the future, when they showed that Big Ben had gone digital and was flashing “12:00”.

  5. Holly H »

    13 February 2018 · 8:07 am

    Dan, thanks for the laugh. I’d forgotten all about that.

  6. May all our words and deeds e’er uphold thy glory | Ramblin' with Roger »

    9 March 2018 · 8:00 am

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