Date Formats

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After stumbling over putting “2015” on the first dated item I wrote this year, a couple things occurred to me. First, while I usually have unnecessarily fervent views on stylistic choices, I don’t have a strong preference for the American or British convention for dates (month/day/year as opposed to day/month/year). The British way seems more logical (smallest to biggest) while the American way mimics the way most people say dates aloud. Second, I’ve never read a good explanation as to why the different conventions came about. If I were guessing wildly, a path-dependent story related to military convention in one of the world wars would be where I’d start, I think.

For date formats in prose, I think my preferred format for is “5 January 2015,” but I’m not sure I have a good, non-aesthetic reason for it.  It sounds overly robotic and bureaucratic if read aloud, but looks nicer on the page and separates numerals, which limits the danger of transposition in typing.

More From Lasch on Abbreviations

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This one may be out of date, but the underlying point is still useful.

“Do not use the new postal abbreviations either in the running text or in footnotes. The old abbreviations—Mass., Miss.—are sanctified by custom. The new ones—MA, MS—are bureaucratic innovations designed to surround the postal service with an illusory air of efficiency. Accordingly they fall under the general prohibition of bureaucratic speech and writing, the invariable purpose of which is evasion and obfuscation, even when it appears, as here, to signal the streamlined, computerized elimination of waste motion.”

– Christopher Lasch, Plain Style: a Guide to Written English, 69 (2002)