Letters to Numbers Trope

The Letters to Numbers Trope is a common design technique that plays on the titles of many movies and TV shows, and it is also frequently used for advertisements. This trope involves using numbers in the place of letters that look similar to the numbers in order to get a point across about the significance of the numbers used. It’s very common in movie posters designed by people who want to emphasize a sequel or some other number that may be important to the story.  Designers will either incorporate the number into the title by replacing some of the letters with numbers, or they will turn it into a play on words, for example, by using the number 2 in the place of the word “two” or to.

One of the most obvious examples is the cover art for the TV series Numbers, an American crime drama featuring Rob Morrow and David Krumholtz. As you can see, the letter E is replaced with the number 3, for the sole purpose of maintaining legibility while still incorporating a seemingly clever yet respectfully cliché spin on the title. The motive is still there to remind the viewers that the common theme of the show has to do with numbers, as if the title isn’t obvious enough.

Another example of using numbers in titles can be recognized in the Coming 2 America movie poster, which is the sequel to the classic Eddie Murphy Movie Coming to America, which was recently released in March of 2021. The significance of the replacement of “to” with 2 in this case is to emphasize the fact that it is a sequel to the original movie, which was released in 1988. Instead of calling the movie Coming to America 2, creators took the opportunity of playing on words and numbers to emphasize the fact that it is a sequel, not to be confused with the original. This has been done so many times before with sequels, because it’s easy to do. In my opinion, this trope almost makes it more confusing, considering the possibility of it being brought up in casual conversation and the fact that the two titles sound exactly the same when spoken aloud.

Lastly, the graduating class of 2021 merchandise is a prime example of using numbers in the place of letters for the sake of aesthetics and significance. The 2 replaces the letter S and the 1 replaces the letter I. This has been done so many times before with other graduating classes as well, such as the class of 2020 where the letter O was replaced with the number 0, and there’s no doubt that all of next year’s graduating students will be representing their class with shirts, hats, bumper stickers, etc. that say 23niors. While it does a decent job of clarifying which year the seniors are graduating, it’s painfully predictable and sometimes it’s a bit of a stretch. Similar to the New Year’s Eve party glasses that are released each year, designers will always be persistent about finding a way to make the numbers of the year wearable, no matter how much they don’t really fit in.









Discussion — One Response

  • Jessica Kemp 02/10/2022 on 11:40 AM

    I think your explanation of this trope is very insightful! As we move to a more online format of design and communication, it seems as if numbers in place of letters has become even more common than it was a few years ago since written language makes it easy to type out the exact name of a movie and get the context behind it. I do agree that sometimes this trop can be annoying and I think the best example of this is The Fast & Furious franchise as some of them have numbers and some of them do not, making it hard to know what order the series goes in sometimes when in verbal conversation as opposed to text.

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