Your Point, My Comma

Spam mails can be great food for thought.

This morning I had this one in one of my many mailboxes:

So, the amount in question was:

It’s interesting to see how the spammer used points and commas in the large amount of money he wanted to trick me with. Don’t know if he was sloppy or had the problem of showing an amount to a not segmented audience of the world that are:

  • Using point as decimal mark and comma as thousand separator
  • Using comma as decimal mark and point as thousand separator

The use of a sign for decimal mark and thousand separators is indeed divided across the globe as seen on this map:

The blue countries are using point as decimal mark and comma as thousand separator and the green countries are doing the opposite.

Then there may be diversities within a country as in Canada there are always questions about Quebec, where they are following the French custom. India also has its own numerals with 100 groupings besides the English heritage.  

The pattern of a approximately one half world using one standard and approximately another half of the world using an opposite standard is seen in other notations as arranging person names, writing street addresses as well as place names and postal codes as told in the post Having the Right Element to the Left.

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9 thoughts on “Your Point, My Comma

  1. So true but the map makes it much more vivid. Of course, when you are dealing with global data sets then local data sets go out of teh window.

    In South Africa we have to commonly have to deal with two languages in address data in particular (English and Afrikaans) as shown here http://www.masterdata.co.za/index.php/blueprints/name-a-address-matching-and-enrichment.

    So the ability to parse and unerstand these complex elements off the shelf is a major issue inhibiting many solutions

    • Thanks Gary.

      The link is an interesting example from South Africa having the house number in front or after the street name depending on the language used.

      Is the map, taken from Wikipedia, correct about that comma as decimal mark is custom in South Africa regardless of language or is it depending on English or Afrikaans context?

  2. Henrik,

    Interesting – I’ve just added a chapter to the Global Sourcebook (http://www.grcdi.nl/book2.htm) about global number formats, so nice timely post!

    The map is too simplistic (you are correct that Québec, for example, uses the French form) and misses some nice extras, such as 1’234.45 (Switzerland, Liechtenstein) and 1 234,56 (various countries) and 1,234/56 (Iran), 1 234-56 (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan) and 1 234.56 (Estonia). I can’t guarantee my sources are correct, but it’s clear that there’s more to it than just commas and decimal points. I’ve always used the Estonian form personally – I can’t imagine why!

    As an aside, my information is that building numbers in South Africa always precede the thoroughfare name. The examples on the link are been deliberately messed up to show what that company’s software can achieve.

    • Thanks Graham. Yeah, most data quality issues are often shown too simplistic, and yes, there are other formats around than the one or two most common.

    • No Graham

      That is not correct.

      English street addresses have the name in front 9as per the UK pattern) but Afrikaans addresses follow the Dutch/German convention and follow the street name.

      Part of the legacy of a colonial past :)

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