Black Ops 4 has been officially revealed and has many people questioning if Treyarch knows how to count, in Latin.
Rumours began circulating earlier this month that the next instalment of Call of Duty would be another Black Ops title and now we know for sure. Today in dramatic fashion Activision streamed a live event that featured a man cutting up a large piece of sheet metal suspended in a warehouse.
When the sparks stopped flying it was revealed to be the new Black Ops logo, four “I”s cut out signally … wait!? four “I”s? What the hell Treyarch, don’t you know your Roman Numerals?
Ok to be fair most people don’t. Even though they are everywhere, including the Superbowl logo, most people couldn’t identify past the first five but that won’t stop people scoffing at this numeral faux pas.
As a writer, it hurts a little to see it displayed that way even as a result of artistic licence. Clearly I am not alone either judging by the number of media outlets reporting on “Black Ops 4“, relegating the IIII to stand with quotation marks as if to say, “listen, this is wrong, I know it’s wrong, my editor knows it’s wrong, and my spell check knows it’s wrong but this is where we are now”.
I resisted the urge to tweet something condescending while I waited for initial confusion and anger to dissipate and went to get myself a cup of tea. Scoffing at the new low society had fallen to. Careful not to over brew my cup I looked up at the clock to mark the time and there it was, staring at me.
On the face of the clock in the break room, I, II, III, IIII, V. It had been there all along and I had never really given it a second thought. Now, as my brain was turning over with the audacity of this video game marketing it stood out as if it had a spotlight on it. So what is going on with the “IIII” anyway?
To V or not to V
IV is the more recognizable Roman Numeral for the number four. It uses the subtractive methodology we often seen in Roman numerals, IV = 1 minus five = Four. Although it requires a little math it is still rather simple. It’s not like I am asking you to party like its MCMXCIX or anything.
A little research into the matter and it turns out Treyarch’s use of IIII rather than the typical IV for the number four is not wrong at all. Using IIII on timepieces dates all the way back to the Roman Empire. Sundials utilized IIII regularly and the methodology was carried over to clock faces as they became more common.
The exact reasons are obscured by centuries of history but possibilities include not wanting to anger gods or kings, easier to cut plates, and tradition. The subtractive method did not become commonplace until after the fall of the Roman Empire suggesting that IIII may have been right to begin with and was phased out in texts.
The most common and perhaps relatable reason given is symmetry. The clockmakers just thought it looked nicer that way. This is probably Treyarch’s motivation here as well. In a digital age, they don’t have to worry about cutting plates for metal numbers on a clock face and it’s doubtful they are worried about the wrath of old “IVPPITER”.
It just looks cool, especially in the context of the logos to date. There is a more than enough precedent to let IIII pass, even if Grammarly is going nuts over it right now.