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Dates: what’s the right format

America write dates as mm/dd/yy. Europe writes them as dd/mm/yy. East Asia uses yy/mm/dd. This gives rise to all sorts of confusion. It was bad enough in the late 20th century, where it was easy to confuse months and days but at least the years were easy, since they were higher then 31, the highest possible number of days in a month. But the arrival of the 21st century made it even worse. Until 2013 it will still be possible to confuse days, months and years.

If you are translating a European document into American English, you can use the American format, of course, but the trouble is that savvy readers who understand the difference may assume you have left it in the European format, so you have gained nothing. I have seen people turn up for meetings on the 3rd April instead of March 4th! Sometimes you can get round the problem by writing out the month in letters or completing the year:

3/Apr/08 or 4 March 2008, or March 4 2008. But if you need to abbreviate it like the original, the only really clear way is to use the approved ISO format, which is yyyy-mm-dd, e.g. 2008-04-03. (ISO 8601:2004)

Of course you have similar problems translating from American English into European languages. The infamous 911 date (11 September 2001) often produces puzzlement on European faces, for whom it ought to be 11/9.

The ISO format has several advantages:

  • it goes from large (years) to small (days) and so it is correctly sorted by computers, just like ordinary texts
  • it’s language independent
  • the separator, a dash (-), can be used in computer filenames; the slash (/) is not allowed.
  • it’s consistent with the 24-hour time system, hh:mm:ss.

It’s also the traditional way in Chinese, Japanese and Korean, all of whom write 2008年4月3日, where the first character is the year, the second is the moon and the third is the sun.

For details: LINK

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