Writing Dates

If you deal with people on an international level, you should already be aware that they have different standards in different countries, even though they speak the same language. Things like spelling (color and colour) are fairly easy to understand, as is the occasional grammar difference.

One major area that people often overlook is how you write dates.

For example, if I write 4/5/06 do I mean the 4th May 2006, or the 5th April 2006? Indeed, I might actually mean 4th May 1906.

In the USA, the numbers tend to be written month/day/year while in the UK they are written day/month/year.

Remember the Y2K/Millenium Bug in the late-1990’s? People feared that ambiguities with how computers dealt with 2-digit years would cause computers to crash, sending Nuclear power stations into meltdown, and planes to fall out of the sky. The theory was that when they tried to work out how many years there were between, say, 1996 and 2000, they would subtract 96 from 00 and get… -96 years.

Doomsday didn’t quite happen on this occasion, but it did highlight the problems that occur when people overlook ambiguities.

For example, September 11th is actually written 11/9 in the UK dating format, not 9/11 (although the infamous events in New York and Washington are still referred to as 9/11 in the media).

Confusion with the way dates are written can have serious problems, beyond computer glitches. The Use Before date on a Can of Beans may be stamped 01 12 08. If this is read the wrong way round, it could mean a nasty-bout of food-poisoning for little Timmy, or even worse.

To prevent confusion, always try to write dates with the month written in letters – e.g. 14th August or Aug 14 if you are short on space. And, if your information is going to be stored for any length of time, add the year.

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