One - one

Naming the number that comes before one.

Pavement drawing Melbourne 2014

There is some confusion between naught, zero and O. We don't know what to call that number that comes before one. We almost go to whisper it as we name it. Its presence seems to describe our absence, as if we are no longer here, dead, god forbid.

The English naught is caught between ought and naughty. That in behaving badly we emulate its nature, is surprising. Also, we have no time to pronounce a word that obliges us to deform the face. It takes a breath just to name the letter. Uttering it seems to require a certain dress code. A male user would be wearing a jacket with shirt and tie.

One rarely hears the use of 'naught' in Australia. Naught is mostly only a destination we come to from striving. Likewise zero is as American is naught is English. Zero applies to a point of arrival from subtraction and constitutes a beginning rather than a nothing. Zero is accompanied by rocket launches and American dreaming. Zero and the American dollar equally, mysteriously, seem well aligned.

The use of the letter O has recently been found to be useful. It is easy to say. In saying it, if we deny the reality of the meaning of it, by turning it into a letter, we at least make a good imitation of the shape of the number with our mouth. No other number can match that. (When I say six, I reveal six teeth, but that is more coincidental than fundamental.)

The increased use of the O option of identification overlaps the emergence of the mobile (telephone). Numbers often need to be recited and exchanged verbally. Ease and speed of transference is essential. Mobile numbers need to flow off the tongue. They are liquid words, telephone numbers. They need to be so to keep up with the pace of our lives. Even when numbers within the number are mismatched, the user will insist on making a flow of them. O is like oil. Oil is like O.

In Australia, and perhaps elsewhere as well, the first number in a mobile is always an O. A future spelling might be Oh, to acknowledge that aspect. O is like a short prayer. In speaking to each other over the telephone, it is like a miracle.

In mobile numbers the O is always cap, not lower case. As a letter in disguise, it is on tippy toes, as if to compensate for its failure to amount to something. Numbers loom large.

We are in a transitional period where we cannot successfully account for the absence of something. While the notion of the one god seems fundamental and irreducible, perhaps the O god is even more profound and accurate.

I imagine the use of O as a number is international, along with mobile numbers. The use of the letter to name the number is not peculiarly Australian.

To overcome my apprehension about the naming of nothing, I have devised the habit of turning the numbers from my mobile to words. I shall not give my real number here. This is a fictional number to illustrate.











The words are stacked vertically to emulate the way numbers stack.