or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Numbers can be a lot like words: they carry meaning and they contain traps for the inattentive and weasel room for the sneaky.

There's a sign in the door of the local magazine store advertising phone cards, which (in case you don't know) you can buy and then use to make long-distance calls rather than relying on land-line long-distance service--a boon for students, foreigners, travellers, and others who don't have steady access to a phone. (You can use the cards with a borrowed cell phone, a pay phone, or just about any other kind.) The sign, however, offers cards that will let you make phone calls for, and I quote, as little as 0.005 cents per minute.

It's a hand-made sign, and I honestly doubt that anyone's trying to rip anyone else off, but the case could be made that this store is advertising, say, $10 phone cards which will give you 20,000 minutes of connect time, or nearly two solid weeks of 24/7 conversation.

The store probably intended to say 5 cents per minute, or even .5 cents per minute: I don't know, and I didn't bother to ask. I doubt it's the latter, since 30 cents an hour doesn't sound doable. But I'm pretty sure the didn't mean what it perhaps inadvertently said: 0.005 dollars is not the same as 0.005 cents, and I don't think anyone could afford to sell what amounts to limitless long-distance calling.

In other number news, the delightful Mouseprint.org has a piece about a typically devious marketing ploy for an established brand: decrease the size of the package while keeping the price the same. In this case, it's quart jars of mayonnaise which have been reduced to 30 ounces, a quart being 32 ounces. Companies do this all the time, but what's noteworthy about this is the language the company used to defend itself: "Recently, inflationary pressures have brought about by the increased costs of raw materials. Rather than raise our prices, we chose to slightly reduce the size of the 32 oz quart and 16 oz pint."

"32-ounce quart" is redundant: a quart is thirty-two ounces. By choosing this wording, they're playing with reality, making it seem as if a quart is whatever they deem it to be, and that therefore you're still getting a quart--even though it's only 30 ounces. The next time inflationary pressures force their hand, I suppose they'll invent the 28- or 26-ounce quart, and the language will again be the victim alongside the consumer. I know this seems like nit-picking, but compare the wording "32-ounce quart" with "32-ounce jar" and you'll see the difference. It's just sneaky, almost Orwellian.

Is it just me, or does a quart of mayonnaise seem like a whole lot? Could you even use it up? After reading the Mouseprint piece, I happened to be in the supermarket and took a look at mayonnaise and salad-dressing jars, and most of them are half-litre, or 500-mL, jars, although it turns out that, though I'd never noticed it before, those products do in fact come in 950-mL jars, which is a little more than an American quart (which is about 908 mL). I wonder if those jars used to be 1-litre jars which were similarly downsized....

Mayonnaise, I noticed, also comes in gigantic 4-litre tubs--about an American gallon--which I have to assume is for restaurants, really big families, and people who like to eat mayonnaise with a serving spoon, which you wouldn't think was preposterous if you got a gander at some of the pie-wagons lumbering about this town.


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