The Prime Meridian Is at 0 Degrees, Right?

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

But wait: 0 isn't prime!

I call shenanigans.


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  1. And the US Department of Justice — isn’t.

  2. For a fun time, try to explain to an International student how we can wind our clocks while the wind blows.

    Both words really are spelled the same way, but no native speaker of English will ever notice that the first time….

    1. On a more serious note, the North Pole really is moving.

      The Magnetic North Pole is racing towards Siberia and so much so that the US Government had to recently somehow adjust GPS.

      There’s even talk of airports having to renumber their runways — as I understand it, runways are identified by the first two digits of their (magnetic) compass headings.

      And there is something called a “polar inversion” where the North and South poles *reverse* — it has happened in the past and we are overdue for another one….

      1. You best put a cap on all the “science” talk.

        The flat-earthers / anti-vaxers / Obama-birthers / World-is-only-6,000-years-old Christians / COVID-19-hoaxers that read the VC will feel that you’re attacking them.

        1. Can’t we have a nice fun thread on something silly without someone coming in like a drunken wine-aunt with anger issues and ruining a birthday party for the nephews?

          1. “Can’t we have a nice fun thread on something silly without someone coming in like a drunken wine-aunt with anger issues and ruining a birthday party for the nephews?”

            Apparently not, because there you are.

        2. Reverend, you forgot to switch accounts.

      2. “On a more serious note, the North Pole really is moving.”

        Of course it is. This is neither controversial nor unexpected. The North Pole rotates once per day, and proceeds around the sun with the rest of the Earth once per year. The North Magnetic Pole is also completely separate from the North Pole.

        1. That’s pedantry at it’s “finest”. Should he have said “shifting” yea, but so what. And besides, every few thousand years the earth’s magnetic polarity reverses.

    2. no native speaker of English will ever notice that the first time….

      I totally whiffed on the first time.

    3. Advances in developing the unionized-particle coating process will enable expansion of the product line. We are planning now for an increase in unionized workforce to support an extra manufacturing shift.

    4. Hand me a cleaver. I need to cleave things together.

      1. “Ward, I need the beaver cleaver!”

    5. I tossed the tough dough into the bough floating on the slough.

      1. Ugh

  3. You aren’t taking into account global warming. By 2047 the Prime Meridian will be at 3°

    1. If it gets to 125 degrees, its done and ready to eat.

      1. A commenter after my own heart. Just take the moo out.

  4. Beef isn’t even a number, but prime rib is #1. Which isn’t prime, either…

    1. It could be prime … or it could be choice.

  5. I thought this would be about the difference between the Prime Meridian marked at the observatory in Greenwich, and the one your GPS will tell you about. They are a few feet apart.

    1. Few *hundred* feet, last I read up on this.

      (For anyone who wonders, the issue is that the area around Greenwich has gravitational oddities based on the density of the ground and what’s underneath it, so the simple plumb bob originally used to find it didn’t point straight downward, and that threw stuff off.)

  6. In this case, Prime does not mean the same thing as “prime”. Here, Prime means “first”, which means you still have a complaint that the first meridian is at 1 degree, not 0 degrees. After dealing with this, can you do something about the fact that there are 3 “primary” colors.

    1. Zero is a number — and you technically should start counting at zero.

      1. How is that better than starting at minus one million?

        1. There are good arguments for starting counting in different places. Consider the difference between Centigrade temperatures and Kelvin. Starting counting at 0 instead of 1 helps avoid some problems involving negative number math…such as for example, being able to answer the question of how long it is between 1BC and 1AD? (1yr.) In general, computer programmers start counting at 0 because it saves storage space.(If you need to be able to store either “1” or “2”, you need two bits for that, but you only need 1 bit to tell “0” from “1”

          1. Is that true about 1 BC to 1 AD? I never knew that. (And, I have to admit, never thought about it before.) I echo Eugene and call math shenanigans. (Which is even more serious than regular shenanigans.)

            1. Yes. There is no year zero in the Gregorian Calendar.

              The day before 1/1/0001 AD was 12/31/0001 BC

              1. But the shift to the Gregorian calendar moved New Year’s Day from …. some date in the spring … to January 1st. So the day before 1/1/0001 AD was 12/31/0001 AD.

                1. Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the King, who ruled from 9BC to 4BC.

            2. This is not absolutely true. There is a year zero in the astronomical numbering system, and also in ISO 8601. Hindu and Buddhist calendars also have a year zero.

          2. Computer languages start counting at zero, because in early languages the index was also the offset multiplier. The first element was at memory_address + zero * (size), second element was at memory_address + one * (size), etc.

            It has absolutely nothing to do with saving storage space.

            1. “It has absolutely nothing to do with saving storage space.”

              Considering that your explanation involves saving storage space, you look foolish at this point.

      2. Count your toes starting at zero, and tell me how many toes you have, without doing any additional arithmetic.

        1. Supposedly Cantor had an argument at a railway station about whether he should pay for five luggage items or four. Said his wife, “Georg, clearly we have five bags!” Replied Cantor, “Nonsense, look, zero, one, two, three, four!” And the stationmaster let them proceed paying for just four, since clearly such simplicity was holy.

        2. “Count your toes starting at zero, and tell me how many toes you have”
          FACT: Some people objectively have 0 toes.

    2. Does the number line start at 0 or 1?

      1. Depends on who made it and for what purpose.

        1. Well, since ‘Prime’ means ‘most important’, and 1 was invented before 0, then from an historical and evolutionary perspective, I suppose you’re correct.

          1. If you are interested in the number zero, The Nothing that Is: A Natural History of Zero by Robert Kaplan is a very good read.

          2. What does the definition of “prime” have to do with who made a number line?

  7. Akin to someone thinking the Attorney General is in the military.

    1. How about the Surgeon General? Don’t tell me he’s in the army!

    2. “It has absolutely nothing to do with saving storage space.”

      Does the Judge Advocate General outrank a light colonel?

  8. Shenanigans… or elliptic verse?! Perhaps both appropriate for the mighty Zero of The Brāhmasphuṭasiddhānta.

  9. “Prime time”, aka “Greenwich time”, is also known as “Zulu Time”, because “Zulu” = “Z” in the NATO alphabet, short for “zero”. Current Zulu time is 21:11.

    1. “Prime Time” starts at 8pm in the Eastern Time Zone.

  10. Well now I feel stupid – I’ve always just figured the term Prime Meridian referred to the quality of the meridian and it’s always been on my bucket list of places and things to go see. I’ve already seen the world’s smallest ball of twine (well, there’s some dispute over the titleholder) and been to the seventh-highest spot in all of Kansas, why wouldn’t I want to go see the world’s finest example of a meridian?

    1. Mt Sunflower?

    2. ” why wouldn’t I want to go see the world’s finest example of a meridian?”

      They’re all imaginary. The lines are on the map, not on the Earth.

  11. Per my dead tree version of Webster’s New World Dictionary, “prime” has seven definitions as an adjective, and six as a noun. Which one is funny?

  12. Zero not prime? Depends on the definition (tongue firmly in cheek here): one is that primes have no factors less than themselves and greater than one, by which zero qualifies as prime .

    1. Zero is evenly divisible by all integers.

      1. To be sure. But that reflects another, different, definition of primality (that a prime should have only itself and one as divisors).

        1. Zero doesn’t have itself as a divisor.

      2. Except for one integer, specifically, 0.

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