When you tell someone your phone number, social security number, birthdate, zip code, etc., do you say ‘zero’ or ‘O’? You know, like in the old TV show Beverly Hills 90210, we know those individual digits are numbers, not letters, and we know those circles are zeros, but the term “O” is used instead.

When people use “O” instead of “zero” does that drive you nuts? It does bother lots of people. A person I know chastises me every time I use “O” instead of “zero.”

The difference between the two? Zero is a slimmer oval shape while the letter is fatter and close to a perfect circle. It’s 0 vs. O.

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This really stood out for me the other day when I was getting a confirmation number for a bill I just paid. That ten-digit number had a “zero” AND an “O”. So while I’m trying to scribble that confirmation number down, looking at it afterward I couldn’t tell the “O” from the “0”.

Should confirmation numbers just keep the zeros and not use ‘O’s? For that matter, should we refer to James Bond as “Agent Double Zero Seven”?

Yes, I think it’s proper to use ‘zero’ at particular times, as in math or temperature…but I feel ‘O’s are OK as well when giving out a phone number, room number, credit card number, etc.

To add to any possible confusion, ‘zero’ is called ‘love’ as in a tennis game.
Or as in “a big fat goose egg.”
Or as the British say, “naught.”
Or as Jethro said on The Beverly Hillbillies, "double knot spy."

Then we contend with other terms for zero like zip, zilch, and nada.

So if you use the letter O instead of zero, more than likely someone will get on your case about it. Just point out to them it is socially acceptable at certain times, but not always. But it will still drive ‘em crazy.

Zeros and "O"s


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