The illogic of the American date format
It was one of those few classes where I actually paid attention and took notes (during the rest I just doodle or stare off in space). I took out my notebook and began taking down some important dates on the powerpoint. But the problem was, the dates were not all uniform.
My notes actually have two extremes: either messy and full of shorthand notations, or neat and well-designed. In this particular class, I chose the latter, and therefore had some problems lining the dates up in a nice, border-less table.
The American date format
Sep 1, 1939 Germany invades Poland 1940 Battle of Britain Nov 1940 Lend-Lease Plan Jun 6, 1944 D-Day in Normandy
As you can see in the table above, trying to line up the dates when they have different depths of specificity is practically impossible. I am left with huge gaps between the month and year if a day isn’t given.
Already, with the ugly and unnecessary gap, the dates are hideous, but there is yet another unnecessary element in the American representation of date: the comma. It breaks the flow of the date, extending below the perfect baseline, and creating an illusion of a large space between the day and month. In short, it just shouldn’t be there.
The underlying cause of its existence, though, winds back to my original problem. Because there are two numbers standing side-by-side, the comma is added in order to reduce confusion.
Simply switch the day and the month. Certainly, this isn’t a novel idea, since this date format is used in many countries (perhaps throughout the rest of the world?). Americans just wanted to be different, at least from Britain.
The non-American date format
1 Sep 1939 Germany invades Poland 1940 Battle of Britain Nov 1940 Lend-Lease Plan 6 Jun 1944 D-Day in Normandy
With this format (see table above), not only are the two numbers properly separated, but the dates line up properly with no unnecessary comma-breaks. In addition, it makes sense to have the dates proceed in decreasing specificity: from day to month to year, rather than the jumbled order of month to day to year.
Americans aren’t complete idiots: the unaesthetic date format has an advantage. Because of the way it is pronounced (“May twenty-ninth, two-thousand-ten”), it makes sense to write in this order.
Despite its advantages, I maintain my position: it’s illogical. Why jumble up the natural order of specificity and place month first? Maybe for the oral communication of dates, Americans should adopt the French way, le vingt-neuf mai deux-mille-dix, the 29th May 2010.
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