Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Pi Day and why American Dates are Wrong

So it's currently "Pi Day", 14th of March or 3/14 as Americans write it.  The name comes since the first three digits of π are 3.14.  Last year got more attention than usual, as it was 3/14/15 (to go with π = 3.14159...), though including rounding you could say that this year should be more appealing.  In either case, permit me to use the occaision for a brief and somewhat pointless tirade on writing dates.

Being British, I grew up writing date as day/month/year (and would celebrate Pi Day on April 31st if April wasn't calendarily-challenged).  This system has its flaws, but it is at least consistent: information is provided in order from finest to coarsest.  When I first moved to the US, one of the irritants I faced was adjusting to the different way that dates are written there.  It's a small thing, to be sure, but every time I looked at a date written with numbers I'd momentarily get it wrong before reminding myself of the different convention.

So what, you may say; different cultures do different things.  And if all you are doing is writing down month and day, the American system has its advantages.  After all, if I tell you that it's the 14th here, that doesn't really tell you much; if I say it's March that conveys a lot more information.1  This is why I have largely adopted the system, when writing dates, of going year-month-day2.  If the year is needed, then it should come first; it is the coarsest piece of information3.

In contrast, Americans have apparently decided that instead of giving information from finest to coarsest, or from coarsest to finest, they'll randomly give the medium-level information first, then fine detail, and then coarse.  It's madness, I tell ya!  Or at the very least, mildly annoying.

1 Like whether I'll need to wear a coat, for example.
2 And also writing months in word form whenever I am allowed to.  Seriously, it avoids all ambiguities and there's really no reason not to do it/allow it as well.
3 I adopted this several years ago, but I was amused to learn that Koreans do the same thing here. It's also the ISO standard.

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