MY DATE PROBLEM
What is the date today?
Is it 10/01/11 or 01/10/11?
The answer, of course, is: are the buses red or the taxis yellow?
Month first vs. day first
How did this happen? The American way of writing a date, with the month first—such as January 10, 2011—was once also fairly common in Britain. Exactly when the British went with more general European practice—and declared starting with the day of the month (10 January 2011) a hard rule—is a mystery. Did the messiness of the added comma intrude? What brought on the change, and how could the language we have in common become so split on something so simple as defining the date?
I’ve lived between the two countries for decades but still have to hover over the numbers as I work out whether 01/10/11 is early October or the second week of January. That is, I’ve grown accustomed to never being quite sure until after the 12th of the month. Running an office that relies on file sharing by date is a nightmare.
My way or the highway?
It’s not a simple difference, like driving on opposites sides of the road. For one thing, while the rest of Europe is firmly on the right when it comes to traffic, every other country on the continent arranges the date the same way as the British: starting from the smallest unit, the day, and working up to the largest. So is the month-first thing just some American quirk, by now one of those anomalies that’s too late for either side to change? When you arrive in the United States from abroad, the immigration and customs forms ask you for the date Euro-style: day, month, year. Is this really a polite gesture of gentle assimilation for tourists? Filling out the customs forms is the one place where Americans returning home have to conform to foreign practices—has nobody noticed?
Date by stealth
Perhaps the most logical way to write the date might be YYYY/MM/DD (for example, 2011/01/10). It makes a certain sense, in that it follows a storyteller’s logic: first imagine the year, then narrow it down to the month—got that?—now here comes the exact day. It’s date by stealth.
A year of days of the year
* Twelfth Night
* Valentine’s Day—14 February or February 14—could go either way.
* It’s the Ides of March, not the March of Ides!
* April 1st it is.
* We have May Day, not Day May.
* 7/7 was a no-brainer
* The Glorious 12th (August) defines the day.
* 9/11 has thrown all other acronymic dates out the window—and the day is always referred to as September 11th—so maybe this is the clincher?
* “Remember, remember, the 5th of November”!
I don’t really mind which way round we end up with — all I ask is that they be the same!—LUCY SISMAN