Clock Watching


Kaira was studying Roman numerals yesterday, and I noticed her gazing at the clock on our mantle perplexed.  “Mommy, the clock’s numerals are WRONG!”  I went over to look, and she pointed at where the 4 would be–or the Roman numeral IV.  Sure enough, Instead of IV our clock has IIII.

Later in the evening Ken reflected that as a boy he’d wondered the same thing, and even asked his fourth grade teacher at school why his clock at home had IIII instead of IV.  She’d replied that it was common for clocks, but didn’t know why.

Well, unlike the public schools, we have more freedom to research our little ponderings, so I’ve been doing some searches, reading horology websites and newsgroups and such.  Although Wikipedia  articles should always be taken with a grain of salt (or the full shaker), the theories in this article match up well with the others I came across.  (In short, most of the more likely explanations pertain to aesthetics; Depicting 4 as IIII instead of IV adds radial symmetry to the clock-face.)

I also learned that the Romans themselves weren’t as consistent as I’d always assumed.  Supposedly  the tombstone of Lucius Duccius Rufinius shows him as the standard bearer for the 9th (written as VIIII, not IX) legion, and as being 28 (inscribed on the stone as XXIIX, instead of XXVIII)  years old.   (I cannot personally verify as I’ve not traveled to York, England where the stone is found.)

My daughter and husband are both more observant than I am.  Ken noticed the clock discrepancy in 4th grade, my daughter at age 7.  I might have lived my entire life without noticing.

Isn’t it amazing: the things we look at every day, yet never truly see.


11 thoughts on “Clock Watching

  1. That is very interesting! I have never noticed the Roman numeral IV written as IIII. Maybe I'm just not super observant! 😉
    I hope you don't mind my asking but, do you know how to put a 'Categories' list on one's blog? I assume you do since you have it on your's but I am simply perplexed! I think I've just been wasting time on the computer trying to figure it out so if you know anything that would help me I would really appreciate just a quick comment on my blog!
    I hope that made sense! = )


  2. What a great picture! This jogged my memory, that Jay had the same question a while ago. I was in the midst of something when he asked and then I forgot to ever help him find the answer. I think I'll ask him today if he ever found an answer and then we can look it up together. I also had never noticed until the day he pointed it out. We have two clocks with Roman numerals and I rarely look at either of them.

  3. I remember hearing or reading that IV was the first two letters of the name of God, or a god, (and commonly used as an abbreviation of that name). It was considered by some to be sacrilegious to use that name on such a mundane object. I have no documentation of this. Logic tells me that it couldn’t be a roman God because clocks weren’t invented in roman times. I am curious as to why roman numbers were ever used on clocks and also why they are used for the year of release in movies. More research is required.

    Grumpy Dave

  4. Dell,
    It is so true that we often go through our days looking at things and even people as well, without ever truly seeing them. Thanks for this interesting tidbit of knowledge. I too would've likely gone through life never noticing that the clock's numeral was wrong.
    Love & Blessings,
    (: Amanda 🙂

  5. My kids noticed that too about our clock, but I didn't have an explanation for the discrepancy. Good for you for looking it up!

  6. That is very interesting! I hope you don't mind that I added you to my friends list! I'm new here at HSB and really like your blog! You are so organized and inspiring! 🙂

  7. Have you ever hear the song, 18 Wheels on a Big Rig? There's a cute version of this song on You Tube. It's not as good as the radio version but I like it. The roman numeral part is my favorite!

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