As we know, the way dates and times are written varies around the world, and not just by language. To refer to the second day of this year as “January 2, 2013″ is unambiguous. But to refer to it as “1/2/13″ invites confusion. In most of the world, this notation actually refers to February 1st. Only in the United States and Belize is “1/2/13″ consistently used to refer to January. And it’s not just a battle of day-first versus month-first — in most of Asia and some of Europe, people put the year first, referring to January 2nd as “13/2/1″.
While it shouldn’t be the highest priority by any means, it certainly would be easier if we all used one standard of date notation. It seems to make sense to go from day to year because (1) the majority of people in the world already do and (2) it stacks in a logical order from small to large. However, being in America, personally switching from month/day/year to day/month/year would accomplish nothing, and actually just add confusion. What should I do?
Therefore, I instead offer that we spell out the month — talking about January 2nd as “2/Jan/2013″. This preserves the day-month-year order but is completely clear and straightforward even to those who are used to the month/day/year system. Every English-speaker in the world should be able to see “2/Jan/2013″ and understand what date it refers to. The goal of this substitution is that we coordinate successfully, but also communicate clearly even to those who are unaware of the coordination.
As for time-of-day, it’s also unclear what “1:00″ refers to — is this on a 12-hour clock, referring to either an hour after midnight or an hour after noon, or on a 24-hour clock, referring to an hour after midnight?
The 12 hour clock has strong usage in the United States, but the 24-hour clock is in the majority. However, I think only the 12-hour clock can accomplish the goal of acheiving coordination while communicating clearly to those unaware of the coordination. It’s very clear that “13:00″ must be the 24-hour clock, “1:00″ will remain forever ambiguous unless some sort of clarification is offered.
If we instead talk in 12 hour time and always notate it with “am” or “pm”, this clearly means the 12 hour clock is being used to every English-speaker. I suppose one could also use a 24-hour clock that also made reference to “am” or “pm”, for example, referring to an hour after midnight as 1am and an hour after noon as 13hrs.
Anyways, the date-time format “2/Jan/2013 1am” is the one I will use personally and throughout this blog. When referring to day-of-week, I will either spell them out or use their three-letter abbreviations. (One letter abbreviations lead to confusion over “T” as Tuesday or Thursday and “S” as Saturday or Sunday; multiple solutions exist, but none are clear to those not in the know.)
(Also, I think the week should start on Monday, but I don’t think there’s any way we could universalize that in a way that is still clear to those not in the know.)
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