Roman numeral IIII on clocks


Yesterday I made a pointless observation that was news to me. Most clocks and watches with Roman numerals employ IIII instead of for the number 4. Here’s an example on one of my favourite Seiko watches:

Ivars Peterson had a great blog post about it:

There are many stories about why IIII appears so often as a replacement for IV on clocks but no definitive explanation. The tradition apparently has a long history and may even go back to sundials. […] I tend to like the explanations that appeal to symmetry.

Naturally it attracted a comment like this, with a delightful punctuation mistake presumably bourne of the same ignorance for which he espouses contempt:

Peoples [sic] ignorance astounds me.

Here are some more interesting factoids:

  • The Unicode number forms block has a character for , but not IIII.

  • Apple never released a follow-up to the III, but I imagine it would have stirred quite the debate as to how to name it given Steve’s penchant for typography.

  • IIII looks more like a barcode than the word itself does, or for that matter.

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