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Friday 11 November 2011


Today is 11/11/11. Unless, of course, you are in the USA, where it's 11/11/11.

Sorry, but i just couldn't resist that. But, that is the whole point of this post.
Just why is there a difference in the way that those in the USA and, at least, us here in the UK write dates?

I have found this difference a source of confusion and even irritation, for a number of years now. Especially when travelling in the USA itself. The increasing influence of the Internet and it's U.S centric nature has only made this worse.

I think this anomaly really came to most peoples attention after, what is universally referred to as '9/11'. The terrorist attacks on America that took place on 11th September 2001.
When somebody in the UK sees that date written down, we automatically think of 9th November.
I totally understand why '9/11' is written as it is. After all the attacks took place is the USA and that date and the way it is written has now become seared to the memory of us all. But, this is an example of the potential confusion that can be caused.

For me, the way that dates are written down in the USA defies logic.
Why on earth would you put the month first and not the actual day? For me this is just confusing. As i'm sure it is for many non Americans.
Surely, the day should come first, because the day changes, well, daily. Whereas the month only changes every 28 to 31 days and as for the year...... well, i think you can guess the rest?

I have been wracking my brain for other similar examples of the way that important numbers are written down "wrongly". I can't think of any, but i did come up with time and the way that that is written down.

Time is also, usually, written in the "wrong" order. For example, we tend to put the hour first, then the minutes, then the seconds. Just look at a digital clock to see what i mean.
Although this goes against the reasoning that i suggested earlier, it does make sense and is logical. The sequence is just written in reverse order to the way that dates are written, in the UK that is. The number that changes the most is written last, instead of first.

Are you still with me?

For me at least, the time example just "proves" that the way that the USA write dates is illogical.
I'm not criticising the USA in any way, what they do is up to them, of course. I'm just asking the question.
So, can anyone explain to me why this is done and when it started?

One concern, for me anyway, is that the continued influence of the USA might mean that the U.S date system may start to creep into more general use. I'll admit that i would not be at all happy if that were to happen.

But, for today at least, we can all enjoy having a Universal date system.
And, it's an auspicious day all round, as it's also a binary day, Remembrance Day and Nigel Tufnell day (For all those Spinal Tap fans amongst you)

So, let's turn today up to 11 and enjoy it while we can.


  1. I've always been under the impression that the American abbreviation was meant to follow the convention of the longhand date: November 11, 2011, so month, day, year. The confusion is even more evident in Canada, where there seems little if any consistency in the use of the two formats. I think American computers and software have influenced me the most in reconciling myself to the American format: first at work, where we would use American inventory control software to order supplies, and then at home using software like Quicken.

    I've always thought the British format, with which I was raised, more sensible and elegant, but I wonder if we're seeing something of the American character, and even genius, here. Something comparable to the dropping of that fussy "u" in words like "color," or the substitution of a "z" for the "s" in words like "organize" to better reflect the sound of the word. Using a consistent format in longhand and abbreviated dates makes some sense and has a certain American forthrightness about it.

  2. Well... if it's a matter of order, as you say - day, month, year... - then shouldn't this year be written as 1121? After all, it's the 11th year of the 21st century, isn't it? 2011 makes absolutely no sense at all. ;^)

  3. Dugal: The American way of doing things is creeping in these days, especially amongst the young. They are far more exposed to it.
    I've seen the dropping of that pesky "u" myself in places & i have to remind myself sometimes of what the "proper" spelling is. I agree that the American spelling could be seen as more logical in some ways.
    I am a bit of a tradionalist though. In some ways at least & i can just imagine the chorus of disapproval as the American influence creeps in :)

  4. Ken: That's actually a pretty good point. It's probably the Romans fault & after all, what did the Romans ever do for us eh? ;)