We can put an end to month-day-year dates

What is today’s date? If you answered this question with October 21, 2018 (read October the twenty-first, two thousand and eightteen), you should go on reading.

The day-month-year date format (e.g., 21 October 2018) is officially adopted by the vast majority of the world’s countries.

The year-month-day date format (e.g., 2018-10-21) is officially adopted by China, Japan, Korea, and Iran, and is also the date format of the ISO 8601 standard.

The month-day-year date format (e.g., October 21, 2018) is officially adopted by the USA only (although contamination of this format can be found in a few other countries). Like most standards adopted in the USA, the month-day-year date format is bizarre at best, as shown in the following illustration:

Visual comparison of date formats

Yet, nowadays…

The month-day-year format is used by a large number of people speaking English as a foreign language, who adopt Americanisms like these without thinking them through. Unfortunately, this is the case even in Europe, despite the fact that every European country–including the UK–officially adopts the day-month-year format.

Long story short: if you live outside the USA but use the month-day-year format when writing or speaking in English, you are doing it wrong. You do not suddenly use miles, pounds, and Fahrenheit when writing or speaking in English, right? Then please, in the interest of logic, do not use the month-day-year date format either. 🙂 Keep using the day-month-year or year-month-day date formats, like you learned in school. If you want to avoid any misunderstanding, just use the variants d MMMM yyyy or d MMM yyyy of the day-month-year date format (e.g., 21 October 2018 or 21 Oct 2018), which are the most readable ones.

So, once again, what is today’s date? It is 21 October 2018 (read the twenty-first of October two thousand and eightteen).

12 Comments

  1. Un grande classico 😉 https://xkcd.com/1179/

  2. Er.. All speeds & distances on UK road signs are in miles.

  3. Deuce Sevenoff

    18 August 2016 at 04:03

    Well at least for this “stop the American contamination” post you only exhort people to stick to their local standard, rather than rally everyone to tweet their politicians and demand an immediate end to this “corruption.” In any case, as a software engineer, you should know that dates are (with few exceptions requiring extreme precision) best stored as Unix Epoch, and then converted into whatever the hell the user wants to see. Dates, timezones, summer time (aka daylight savings), non-Gregorian calendars, etc etc—it’s a nightmare best left to someone sick enough to figure it all out and program it into a nice library for the UI guys to use.

    • This post has nothing to do with how dates are stored by a computer.

      • Deuce Sevenoff

        27 August 2016 at 05:47

        Well, so you are talking about how students write dates on their papers? The vast majority of communication is now done through computers, including printed pages, which start out as electronic documents. Formatting the date to the local standard could be then a software solution. You say you’re a software engineer, so I’m just suggesting thinking like one.

        • This post is about how dates are represented, with or without a computer. Yes, the vast majority of communication is done through computers, yet dates are typed manually and not reformatted automatically in most cases. Just think about short messages or emails, for example.

  4. Yes. many customs in the USA are different. I agree that our numerical dates can cause confusion in a foreign place. But to urge that we now change is a little like exhorting that we start speaking a more common language because there would be less confusion in foreign places (only a little like). Perhaps it is the inconsistency you wish to root out. Then you may wish to exhort that we start using good-gooder-goodest, just one example. I am not against a change to our date format. It would be good. What wouldn’t be good is for those who read your blog to start following your advice. Then you have bred confusion domestically. I believe we’d all have to make the switch. Do you have a plan, or are you just writing an essay?

    • Alessandro Rossini

      10 May 2015 at 18:27

      I am not trying to convince Americans to use the day-month-year format. This would be a lost cause. On the contrary, I am trying to convince anyone else in the world not to use the month-day-year format. In fact, I explicitly wrote “if you live outside the USA, but use the month-day-year format when writing or speaking in English, you are doing it wrong” in my article. As a European, I find it ridiculous that Europeans contaminate English with Americanisms like these, especially considering that every European country, including the UK, adopts the day-month-year format.

  5. The main problem is that… people never listen to common sense 😉

  6. Morten Helgeland

    21 November 2013 at 11:12

    I usually use Day-Month-Year, but sometimes it is really useful to write the date down the oposite way, year-month-day. Everyone who uses computers with “sort by date” know what I mean. Try sorting documents with the dates 21-11-2013, 29-11-2013 and 06-12-2013 it gets switched around because 06 is before 21 and 29. 2013-11-21, 2013-11-29 and 2013-12-06 will come out in the right order and easier to read which is much better for a good forlder structure.

    • Alessandro Rossini

      22 November 2013 at 16:29

      I agree with you Morten. The day-month-year and year-month-day date formats are complementary. I use day-month-year most of the time, since it is the most readable, but I use year-month-day in file names, since, as you pointed out, it guarantees that sorting by date corresponds to sorting by name.

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