Fact Check

Do Searches for Roman Numerals Peak Every Year Around the Super Bowl?

A Google Trends chart supposedly shows searches for Roman numerals peaking each year at the same time as the Super Bowl.

Published Feb 11, 2024

 (X user @maneymonday)
Image Via X user @maneymonday
Claim:
A chart showing that Google searches for "how to read roman numerals" peak yearly at the same time as searches for "super bowl" is genuine.
Context

While the search trends are real, the chart in question is not.

Every year in early February, millions of football fans participate in a number of Super Bowl traditions: a watch party, complete with ads and the halftime show; prop bets on things as silly as the coin toss or the duration of the national anthem; and last — but certainly not least — seeing the Roman numerals in the logo and quickly searching to remind themselves how to read them.

2024 will be Super Bowl LVIII (that's 58, in case you were wondering), and you're not alone if you had to think about it to figure that out. Each year, a chart circulates online purportedly showing Google search trends for "super bowl" and "how to read roman numerals" in lock-step with each other, peaks lining up every Super Bowl season.

We'll be the first ones to point out that correlation does not equal causation, but the Super Bowl's massive popularity and its use of Roman numerals does feel like a reasonable explanation for the trend. So is the chart real? Well, yes and no.

We started by using Google Trends to test the results for ourselves but had no luck in reproducing the chart. As it turns out, searches for "super bowl" are very common, while searches for "how to read roman numerals" are not. Because Google Trends displays results as a percentage of the highest number of searches displayed on the chart, the small number of people looking up "how to read roman numerals" is absolutely dwarfed by the "super bowl" results and ends up looking like a horizontal line at 0% or 1%.

Just to check, we tried other phrases like just "roman numerals" or "how do roman numerals work." Those also did not reproduce the graph.

So, we moved on to trying to identify where the image came from. Using TinEye and Google's reverse image search, we found a variety of posts dating back to 2015, about year after the chart would theoretically have been created. Although we were not able to identify exactly which of these posts came first, we found comments from users at the time expressing that they had attempted to verify the chart and found it was not accurate.

As such, we conclude that the chart itself isn't real.

However, the trend very much is real. A post from the official Google Trends X account (known as Twitter at the time) from Feb. 7, 2021, shows the search results for "Roman numerals," which do indeed peak around the time of the Super Bowl each year. A corresponding blog post from Google found other interesting correlations.

For those still wondering about Roman numerals, we'll save you the Google search: Different letters represent different numbers, with I equal to 1, V equal to 5, X to 10, L to 50, C to 100, D to 500 and M to 1000. If you need anything but a four or a nine, you simply write it all out. VIII is eight, LX is 60 and DCCL is 750, for instance.

With fours, nines, forties, nineties and so on, you place the smaller number before the larger number it is to be subtracted from, meaning that IV is four and IX is nine. The confusing notation is probably why the 2015 Super Bowl (XLIX / 49), is still, as of this writing, the year with the second-highest number of searches for Roman numerals, losing only to 2023's contest (Super Bowl LVII / 57).

Sources

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Super Bowl Search Trends through the Decade - Google. https://about.google/intl/ALL_us/stories/super-bowl-2020/. Accessed 1 Feb. 2024.
TinEye Reverse Image Search. https://tineye.com/search/4f0d6f6f710acdacf4024044420345434a6b8de7?sort=crawl_date&order=asc&page=2. Accessed 1 Feb. 2024.
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Jack Izzo is a Chicago-based journalist and two-time "Jeopardy!" alumnus.