Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

OH! What a pity

By Ian Nance - posted Thursday, 5 December 2019

Linguistically, I am a pedant. No, please don't scroll off right away… just read me out!

By regular definition a pedant is a person who is excessively concerned with minor details and rules, or with displaying academic learning, andcertainly I could be deemed to be of such a pedantic disposition because I am concerned at one aspect of our colloquial speaking.

The habit of referring to a nil amount of something. as "OH". Not nought, or zero … thoughtlessly, "OH".


It is quite common in contemporary conversational style, and firmly evident within a section of our demographic which is not very concerned about how to employ what is accepted widely as correct grammar for speech.

Or perhaps this vocal style indicates an under-educated part of that demographic, (although the decreased quality of English grammatical tuition at school could have a bearing on this), whereas yet a further section of society seems entrenched in an attitude of disdain for any speech style other than their own. It's a societal habit that has become entrenched through sheer usage lack of grammatic questioning, or perhaps careless laziness.

But there are historical factors which could come into play in the acceptance of a speech habit which many consider to be traditional.

For example, the major infantry weapon until the late 1950s was the Lee Enfield rifle, traditionally referred to as the "three oh three", due to its bore's being 0.303 inches diameter.

I never heard it referred as the "three zero three". Often, its name was shortened simply to "three oh". This relaxed phrasing fits in comfortably with another sort of entrenched Aussie custom prevalent in day-to-day chat, the tendency to informalise and shorten a word by adding the suffix "o" to it, such as in this typical example:

"Me mate's an ambo and hurt his back, so he's off on compo. This arvo, I drove him down to the servo so he could get a check for his rego. Everything went good-oh."


"OH"has the distinct advantage of only having one syllable and flows freely as a suffix to many regular words, making it fit snugly into a speech style. But sometimes its use instead of zero can cause informational error.

People who use electronic voice communication extensively probably never transgress this guideline of proper definition and regularly will use the term 'zero', and less frequently, 'nought'. Typical of this cohort are aircrew and air traffic controllers to whom the substitution of the sound "OH" would be grossly wrong, emphasising that as in so many other areas of communications endeavour, it's a matter of the right 'horses for courses'.

Other users of radio voice communication systems are emergency services such as police, firefighters, ambulance operatives, as well as a large number of service operators.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

5 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Ian Nance's media career began in radio drama production and news. He took up TV direction of news/current affairs, thence freelance television and film producing, directing and writing. He operated a program and commercial production company, later moving into advertising and marketing.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Ian Nance

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Ian Nance
Article Tools
Comment 5 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy