Calendar Confusion

and the Year 2000

Look at the dates:


If you are American, this may seem trifling.

1. 1. 2000

If you are German, this may not be what you want to hear.




If you are Japanese, you are used to it.

In a multinational environment, many do appreciate this format.

Why on Earth use the date format YYYY-MM-DD?

Time and again, I look at US American letters, software, web pages, what have you. As I read along, I run into these dates like 05/10/96. "Hmm", I say to myself, and "um", and "?@*# giddarnit! " Is this May or October?!

Imagine we will some time soon celebrate the year 2000 and then 2001 and so forth. Are we all on this little planet really going to be satisfied reading and interpreting for another thousand years the likes of 05/10/01?? Are we looking forward in this case to a date in May, October or January?

Or, for that part, will it be any better to write 10.05.01 as they do in Germany, for example?

Now that I have your attention, may I direct your attention to your readers. We all communicate in writing, maybe even more so in cyberspace that we used to do by postal mail. The readers are you and I everywhere. We all have, from our native language, learned habits of writing dates. These habits continue to confuse the larger part of our readers world wide.

Remember: you are a foreigner almost everywhere.

Yes, I hear you say in the background, thousands of programmers are busy now updating legacy software to handle the millennium jump. Well then, I ask, is the format for the year 2000 going to be 05/10/2001 or 10.05.2001? What do the readers say? Shall we call it progress and quit for another thousand years?

Ladies and Gentlemen, Microsoft and Lotus, UNIX and OS/2 and anyone who decides on a default date format in software:  PLEASE get your most significant digits right! Windows supports the international date format, Word does it, Excel does not in cell formats. Aaargh!

I think we all can do better. Let's undo this tower of Babel for dates. Here and now, we are in the forefront of this growing international environment called the Internet. And it would not be the first calendar reform in history, either.

Whether they suspect it or not, programmers are in a position to remove this worldwide confusion. Programmers can gain agreement and support for this idea from their customers, their managers, their friends. Use this chance. Harmonize that date format! Please.

Yes, it is a break with tradition. Yes, it may feel awkward in the beginning. It may even affect the Internet. ;-) But, once you get used to it, you may wonder how on earth did we get along before.

Please support
the harmonized
date format 

Even if you are new to this way of writing dates, does it make sense? Would you want to support it? Make up your mind, show this article to others, link to it, copy it, get it printed.

The Year Month Day format is in use by worldwide organizations such as ISO, the International Organization for Standardization. Look for the standard ISO 8601. I wish they made it public domain.

Check your computer operating system manual (DOS), you may find the countries that use the format YYYY-MM-DD. Japan, Sweden, a few more. It is simply less confusing than the alternatives. It also sorts better if used in simple text databases.

 How shall we pronounce the date format YYYY-MM-DD?

I had the same question. The answer is simple. For 05/10/96, we already say,"10th of May, 1996". See?  We are not following the written sequence.   Time and again, I remember one of my beloved teachers explaining to us second graders how we write and speak numbers: "most significant digits first". She was right, of course, and she patiently explained the exception in German for the tens digit, which comes last, as in 96, "sechsundneunzig" = "sixandninety". German has its irregularities, yet most significant digits first holds true in most languages (certain microprocessor code has it backwards, too).

I, for one, look forward to the day we peacefully celebrate the year 2000 in many many languages, pronouncing the most significant digits first. Speak after me:

Good-bye Millennium, good-bye
31st of December 1999.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
Welcome to
2000 January 1.


 Created 1996-05-13, revised 1997-09-08 That's why this date format !
 © 1996 and later by . This page is dedicated to the public domain.

No pixels were harmed in the making of this page. Total height: 2000 picture elements.