I found a $20 bill in my pants pocket today, but then I locked myself out of my house and had to break back in through a window. Then I thought I saw Dan Aykroyd on the subway, but it turned out it was just a tall, fat guy. Even steven.

My luck would be evenly split between good and bad if it weren’t for the following, which actually started last week, but my trip today to clean up after last week’s errors was fruitless, since it turned out that no one was there to meet me. So a simple errand will require three separate trips in the end.

My fencing club practices in space provided by no less than three churches around town, two of which are within easy walking distance of my home. We just quit using one for the summer because we can get extra time at one of the other ones, where the gym is bigger. Because I live so conveniently close, I was volunteered to drop off the keys and payment for the last few months during the church’s office hours. That was last month. Last week, I finally got around to going over to do it. They didn’t even realize we’d finished up yet, so no worries about my taking my time.

The nice German-accented older lady in the office took our extra sets of keys and the cheque. Then she gazed intently at the cheque. “This says 10/06/2008,” she said. “We are now just into the seventh month.”

“Yeah, sorry about that,” I said. “I’m a couple of weeks late bringing it over.”

“No,” she said. “This is dated for October.” I looked at the cheque. Sure enough, the space allotted for the date was preformatted in the MM/DD/YYYY scheme. Above these letters had been written 10./06/2008 rather than 06/10/2008, making it predated to October 6 rather than June 10.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” I said. I didn’t want to blaspheme in a church, and being that I’m Pete, I like expressions that revolve around my well-being. she didn’t want to hold on to the cheque for three months to cash it, so I agreed to have our club president correct the date and initial it and then I’d bring it back. (Neither of us considered fixing the date and forging the initials; we were in a church after all, and I believe that falls under “bearing false witness”.) We briefly debated whether I should keep the keys until I came back; she argued that once I’d returned the keys, I could simply skip out on the payment, while I argued that there was nothing to prevent me from simply skipping town with the payment and the keys, and the church would hardly be better off then. My viewpoint prevailed, and I left the keys, promising to return with the corrected cheque. I did that today, and no one was there, so I’ll have to go back again.

People, can we please get together and settle on a date format so we can avoid similar misunderstandings in the future? This MM/DD/YYYY thing is nonsense, although at least we’re using four digits for the year now, thanks to the Y2K panic. I’m a fan of the ISO 8601 standard, which calls for YYYY-MM-DD. I figured the German lady would be too, since she’s European and the International Organization for Standardization is all metric or whatever, but she’s a proponent of just writing out the name of the month. That does avoid confusion, but assuming we have to go with a strictly numerical format for the sake of the computers, let’s go with YYYY-MM-DD.

It goes from biggest to smallest, just as we write out the time. Sure, we may say things like “a quarter after ten,” but when we write it out, it’s always 10:15, not 15:10. That’s unless we add the seconds too, of course; then it’s 10:15:00. If you’re timing a race or something and want to use tenths, or hundredths, or thousandths of seconds, it works the same way — biggest to smallest.

When you write out the year alone, it works this way too. 2008 — 2 millennia, zero centuries, zero decades, 8 years. Biggest to smallest. Write out the date and time together, and it just makes sense to go from the largest units down to the smallest: YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS.

It just makes sense. It would eliminate confusion and endless unnecessary trips back and forth on my part because people are getting tripped up by what ought to be a simple matter. For Pete’s sake, can we agree on this?

9 Responses to “YYYY-MM-DD”

  1. 1 kayvee



  2. 2 Scott

    “Hey Pete, when were you born?”

    “Nineteen Seventy Four, Four, Eight”

    That said, I think I actually agree with you.

  3. 3 Ken

    More support for the YYYY/MM/DD proposal:

    If you name computer files this way, the computer will unerringly arrange them chronologically when you select to sort items by name. “Date modified” is unsatisfactory if you want the files according to what specific date they refer to, rather than the last time they were modified.

  4. 4 Matt

    “By the power of Grayskull” is another good one.

  5. 5 Eric

    I’d go with anything as long as it’s not the damned MM/DD/YYYY.

  6. 6 Lucas

    Yes—what Ken said.

    I worked a shitty digital archiving job (read: scanning and sorting old meeting minutes and reports) and spent an hour trying to convince my boss that the yyyy-mm-dd system was best. It was this convergence between chronological and alphabetical order that finally convinced him.

    I lead an exciting life!

  7. This is surprising as it’s the kind of post I might have expected from computer scientists or mathematicians, which I appreciate greatly. I guess it’s not too surprising, though, that a copy editor would be in favour of more logical recordkeeping.

  8. 8 Peter Lynn

    Scott: Point taken, but I’m only talking about writing it down, of course. I admittedly say “April 8, 1974” just as I say “a quarter after ten.”

    I’m pleased to see all the fellow nerds who agree with me. The only holdout is Kitty, the Englishwoman. And you know how backward the English are. They drive on the wrong side, call their underwear “pants”, and play football with their feet instead of their hands!

  9. 9 hilly

    Chiming in agreement with Ken and Lucas. I work in litigation support, which involves a great deal of “librarian work” as I call it, or more clearly the proper sorting and ordering of large masses of files and folders for a database to use. I still have vendors, colleagues, and paralegals who get still get stuck on the “year first in date” concept, as well as “don’t number your images 1 through 10 instead of 000001 through 0000010 because you will make life hell for all concerned.”

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