8

As Imperial Walkers are closing in on the Rebel Base on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, General Veers asks how far they are from the Power Generators:

VEERS: Distance to power generators?

PILOT: One-seven, decimal two-eight.

Why would the Pilot say DECIMAL - not to mention saying One-seven? It would seem to be quicker and more understandable for anyone to use Seventeen point twenty-eight instead.

Did the original script say Decimal or was this improvisation on the part of the actor?

Please explain any reason (in-universe or out) to say each individual number or the word DECIMAL like this (maybe IRL pilots in bombers do this for accuracy).

  • 3
    Same reason naval aviators spell out everything now. – Omegacron May 11 '15 at 19:16
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    Who says seventeen point twenty eight anyway? Surely you mean Seventeen point two eight – Valorum May 11 '15 at 19:24
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    I don't think it's off-topic: it's asking about a production (script) issue of a work of science fiction. It's just not very well researched :\ The bigger question is, do the movies stick to this convention consistently? – KutuluMike May 11 '15 at 19:25
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    @MichaelEdenfield - I'm not gonna close it. By the same token, I wouldn't be broken-hearted if it got closed. – Valorum May 11 '15 at 19:26
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    I asked why they use DECIMAL here because this is the only place in SW that it is ever used. "She'll make point five beyond the speed of light." "Rendezvous at mark six point one." – Hannover Fist May 11 '15 at 20:10
22

Standard radio procedure and phonetics has a specific way that every letter and number is pronounced on the radio to avoid confusion by the receiver.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NATO_phonetic_alphabet shows the proper pronunciation for each number and letter used.

At the end of the number list, "decimal point" is shown as pronounced as "DAY-SEE-MAL" over comms. As well, until you get into hundred or thousand, the only numbers are 0-9, therefore double digit figures must be "spelled" out.

  • Seems like the better question is why did anyone ever say "point" in Star Wars. – Todd Wilcox Feb 3 '16 at 6:21
15

What you're referring to is called "Voice Procedure" (or sometimes "Vocal Procedure"). It was formulated not long after the invention of the telegraph, and is a way of carefully enunciating specific letters/numbers in order to minimize confusion on the other end. With the advent of widespread radio communication in the First World War, this standard was modified and adopted by the major militaries of the world.

As most sci-fi militaries take their cue from modern militaries, this form of spoken communication has been used for what we see on-screen as well. For instance, it can be seen in Star Trek: The Next Generation whenever coordinates are called out:

PICARD: Mr. La Forge, take us out of orbit.

GEORDI: Destination, sir?

PICARD: I don't care. Let's just get some distance between us and this system.

GEORDI: Aye, sir. Course 9-7-0 Mark 3-1-8, speed... warp 3.

RIKER: Where will that take us, Mr. La Forge?

GEORDI: The Opperline system.

RIKER: An interesting choice. Why?

GEORDI: Curiosity. We've never been there.

PICARD: Engage.

Use of the term "decimal" is proper according to the standard, but the word "mark" is sometimes used to indicate a decimal or exact point in time, depending on the context of the message at the time. Using "decimal" instead may have been an attempt by Lucas to make the Empire seem more alien to a modern audience.

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    I don't think "mark" in ST was based on any real-world usage of mark (though US military does use "tack" instead of "dash"). "decimal" and "point" are both used for coordinates that are real numbers. Having said that, the fact that any radio-based military is going to have it's own voice procedure is right on point... (no pun intended) – KutuluMike May 11 '15 at 19:35
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    @MichaelEdenfield : the only one I'm sure about is Air Force - their pilots are trained to use "mark", or at least they were 20,30 years ago when I was growing up around the bases. – Omegacron May 11 '15 at 19:40
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    I thought the military usage of "mark" was used in terms of "marking" a target, not as a replacement for "point"? In ST, it's not use as a decimal, it's used to indicate the separation between two coordinates, like "970 mark 318" is basically "970 latitude, 318 longitude" (apparently, using some kind of wierd 1000 degree scale.) – KutuluMike May 11 '15 at 19:44
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    @ Michael Edenfield You are correct. It is NOT used to replace the decimal. – Ryan Perry May 11 '15 at 19:56
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    @MichaelEdenfield: Yes, it is explicitly explained in Datalore that "mark" separates yaw angle from pitch angle. – ThePopMachine May 11 '15 at 20:47

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