# Pronouncing Hex

June 8, 2022

In the show Silicon Valley T.J. Miller’s character, Erlich Bachman, asks someone “… what nine times F is. It’s fleventy-five.”

The answer is `0x87`. It sounds like it should be `0xF5`, so Tim Babb took this and made a whole scheme for pronouncing hex numbers. Before that, `0xF5` would have been “fimtek five” in S.R. Rogers’ 2007 scheme, “fytonsu” in John W. Nystrom’s 1859 scheme, and “frosty five” in Robert Magnusson’s 1968 scheme:

None of these took off, which is just fine, but I still want to know whether to pronounce `0x10` as “ten” or “one zero”. I can’t tell if “eleven” means two written `1`s, or if it always means the abstract number that’s represented in decimal as `11`. Most would probably say “eleven hex” for `0x11`, but then is `0b11` “eleven binary”? That seems completely wrong.

Rogers used “ten”, “eleven”, and “twelve” to mean their decimal value, so he used those for `0xA`, `0xB`, and `0xC`. After that he made up other names, like “draze” for `0xD`. Maybe that’s because “eleven” and “twelve” don’t have a “ten” or “teen” in their name, so they can be decoupled from base ten. Except that the “tw” of “twelve” comes from “two”!

I had a friend once argue that “sixteen” clearly means six plus ten, so `0x10` should be pronounced “sixteen” (or “one zero hex”) and `0x16` should not. But that depends on you defining “ten” to be decimal `10` and not `0x10`. It would be internally consistent to define `0x10` as “ten” and `0x46` “forty six hex”. You’d just need to spell out the letters if they appear, like “forty eff” for `0x4F` and “eff five” for `0xF5`.

In the end I think it’s too awkward to think of “ten” as just decimal `10`. That means `0xA` is “ten” and `0x10` is, what, “hex one zero”? Then `0x4000` is “hex four zero zero zero”? I’ll stick with what I’ve seen most people do, which is to re-use the decimal labels and just say “hex” in front: “hex four thousand”. After all, bases are just ways of writing numbers, and speech can just tag along with that instead of pretending that spoken numbers are always magically in decimal.