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07 September 2006

American dates and 11th September

Why do Americans write dates backwards?

This is article the first about writing dates backwards. The one after this will be article the second. If I write eleven, the eleventh one will be article the eleventh.

No, wait a minute. Won't it be "the first article","the second article" and "the eleventh article"? If it's days of advent, it's the first day of advent not advent the first. In a few days it will be the eleventh day this month. The _eleventh_day_of_the_month. It makes sense, so much more so than reversing it to say day the eleventh. So why will everyone in the US write it backwards as September the 11th rather than something that is consistent with other American English usage, and say the 11th of September?

Let me remind you of an American film. "Born on the fourth of July". Not "Born on July 4th".

Let me remind you of an American song.

I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy, A Yankee Doodle do or die.
A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam's Born on the Fourth of July.
George M. Cohan

Despite the fact that July 4th wouldn't rhyme, it seems that Americans can write the day the other way round, when it suits them.

Take a look at numbers

12345. Twelve thousand, three hundred and forty five. The digits go left to right in order of decreasing significance.

Or a UK date

7th September 2006. The elements go left to right in order of increasing significance.

Now a US date

07/09/2006. 7th of September or 9th of July? If the latter, it's the only number I know of that has the least significant element in the middle rather than the end.

It's worrying that this practice is spreading to the UK. After all, if people get mixed up with dates written "best before 08/07/06" on medicine and they think this means August the 7th, they might get a surprise if it really meant the 8th of July.

Especially in the run up to the 11th of September, the UK media is now uniformly calling it "9/11" rather than "11/9". We don't need this confusion in the UK as well, it's bad enough as a programmer trying to deal with US jumbled dates without people in the UK using two date systems at the same time.

That's my grumble anyway. What will I be doing on 11th September? Preparing for my 2nd daughter's 5th birthday the next day. That's daughter the 2nd, birthday the 5th in American format :-)


Anonymous said...

UTC/Japanese date/times are the most consistent though yyyy/mm/dd hh:mm:ss.

Anonymous said...

I refer you to one George MacDonald Fraser's terrific book 'The Pyrates'. "Chapter the First, Book the Second", etc. I think you'll find he's not American.
As a Yank, I agree, we're inconsistent and I find European usage a better idea (though it's not intuitive since I was brought up the other way). When a date takes on historical significance in the U.S. it is generally written as 'December 7, 1941', 'July 4th, 1776'. Old British usage is precisely the same... on the other hand, in formal correspondence, it would normally be 7 December, 1941, etc. No rhyme nor reason, sort it out logically, take all the pills before the earliest due date, read the instructions on the form (the number of customs declarations I've bogged up in various countries to include my own is staggering).
On the other hand, to take a completely unwarranted swipe at British usage (since it appears that's what we're doing today), there's absolutely no reason whatever to insert the letter 'u' in the word 'color' and there's not a scrap of sense in an English-speaking land pronouncing the word 'Cholmondeley' with but two syllables. We used to call one of our states Maffachufetts... we got over it. Perhaps you have a bit of housecleaning to do yourself.

Craig Cockburn said...

See also BBC article on Americanisms.

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