number format and semantic hairsplitting in China

Randy Alexander strangeguitars at GMAIL.COM
Fri May 8 04:46:43 UTC 2009

On Fri, May 8, 2009 at 1:33 AM, Michael Sheehan <Wordmall at> wrote:
> Is there a real difference between these two numbers?
> One hundred fifteen
> One hundred and fifteen
> In other words, does the coordinating conjunction change the meaning in any
> way, or is there a situation in which it is more desirable?

I'm going to be more bold than Arnold in answering: no, there's no
meaning difference.  There is only a difference in format. Â The only
factors that could contribute to a preference in use are space
limitations, and (a very slight) degree of formality, or other
format-related factors.

And now a slightly related anecdote, for those who might be
interested. Â I often get asked questions like this by English students
and teachers here in China. Â A pair of semantically identical or
nearly identical phrases or sentences are presented to me and I'm
asked to choose the right one for a certain situation. Â I tell the
asker that either one is OK. Â They step back and look at me with utter
disbelief, saying one *must* be correct and the other wrong.

First of all there seems to be an inherent belief among second
language learners that each expression must map onto exactly one idea.
 I myself was guilty of that in my early stage of Chinese study.  I
tried my best to believe that each different expression could not be
equal to any other expression; that each expression had some special
shade of meaning or connotation.

This seems a harmless enough problem at first, but when you multiply
it times 300 million or so students in one country alone, it gets
elevated to policy.  These students and teachers are asking me these
kinds of questions because their own teachers have put them on tests.
Once people see them on tests, they regard them as canon.

It's supremely difficult to trace the origin of many of these
prescriptive ideas.  Maybe next time I am asked, I should present some
of these questions to the list.  It would be interesting to see what
people come up with.

Randy Alexander
Jilin City, China
My Manchu studies blog:

The American Dialect Society -

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