Three seven five
The price is right
August 4, 2011
I was “browsing” in a shop the other day, when my companion enquired as to the price of a piece of leather merchandise. The shop assistant told us the price, not by saying the actual number, but by uttering single digits: “Three seven five.” This is an increasingly common and delightfully transparent strategy of commercial Unspeak, whereby the hearer is discouraged from conceptualizing the figure as a real sum of money (“Oh em gee, three hundred and seventy-five pounds!?”). Instead one may merely relax into the mellifluous recitation of single integers, as though a savant somewhere is reciting the million-and-nth digits of
pi tau; one may even imagine one’s own decimal point, placed anywhere in the series that makes it seem more agreeable; and, as my companion noted, if the reciter speaks slowly enough, it seems possible for the merchant to hope that you will have forgotten the first digit, and the total number of digits, by the time the speaker arrives at the last.1 I expect that soon some enterprising emporium will instruct its associates to communicate prices in binary?
What other rhetorical strategies of price obfuscation cause you to buy nice things, readers?
- On the other hand, I have noticed that car prices in TV ads tend to be announced along the lines of “Ten nine nine five”: perhaps for a series of five digits or longer, the worry is that the listener could be confused into thinking that the price is an order or two of magnitude greater than it is. ↩