About Time

I am writing this post on February 17, 2020.

Or, I could say, I am writing this post on 17 February 2020.

Between the two datal formats even the most careless of readers will notice a world of difference. So which to choose? I see several advantages to the second format (day-month-year). Allow me to enumerate:

  1. The second date is just a bit shorter (sure, by only a comma’s width, but still: concision typically makes for better writing).

  2. The added comma in the first date not only strikes the eye, like a slender splinter speared up (or, in this case, down) from the line, but also offends the ear, for the comma dictates that we must pause between the two numbers—the 17 and the 2020—and who has time for such dawdling?

  3. The second example resists the truly wretched practice of making the day an ordinal number (“I am writing this on February 17th”), as if there were some kind of ranking afoot. We much prefer the simple cardinal number (17). No one would write 17th February, but we might, and indeed do, see February 17th (each time I type the latter date I literally shudder).

  4. Finally and most importantly, the first date above is lacking in temporal logic: Why start at the month, descend to the day, and then reverse course and ascend (by two temporal units!) to the year, when we can start at the day, ascend smoothly to the month, and then ascend again to the year? 17-ascend-February-ascend-2020. There is rhythm here. A pleasant bounce-bounce. You can dance to it.

Garner makes clear that the day-month-year format may be used “unimpeachably” (Garner’s Modern American Usage, p. 225). (He also notes, for what it’s worth, that this format is used in the American military (where, we would hope, efficiency is of paramount importance).) The rest of the world seems to understand the advantages of the day-month-year format. Writers, editors, fellow Americans*: it is time for a revolution! Don’t wait until tomorrow to change your datal formatting. Let’s do this today, that is: 17 February 2020.

*not to mention the designers of this blog page

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