September 19(th)

A blast from the past: from a 2009 posting on writing dates:

… any number of manuals tell you that you must not write {January 13th} (curly brackets enclose written material); only {January 13} is acceptable. The usual defense is that {January 13th} is prolix, because it has an unncessary {th}. Omit Needless Letters, or something like that.

What makes this proscription especially bizarre is that {January 13} must be read as “January thirteenth”. I cannot say “I met him on January thirteen”. That is, {January 13th} is faithful (but, to some people’s measures, not well-formed).

So there’s an orthography-to-pronunciation convention. Ok, I guess. But what riles me is all those advice sites that dump on {January 13th} and the like, as if they were signs of idiocy. Why do people care so much?

Some publications have taken the matter in hand and decided to spell such dates rationally. The Economist, in particular, is consistent in its spellings. A recent issue uses the rational spelling in its headers:

The Economist September 10th, 2011

and in the text, as in this example from “The Libyan dilemma” on p. 45 on that issue:

On September 6th, China issued a white paper on its “peaceful development” (ie, rise) …

I’ve started using this variant myself.

5 Responses to “September 19(th)”

  1. Jocelyn Limpert Says:

    To begin with, The Economist uses UK English and style (including spelling and punctuation), so isn’t a reasonable source to use.

    In the U.S.”September 19th” within a sentence is acceptable, but NOT “September 19th, 2011.” All style guide for US English would list “September 13, 2011” as the “correct” way to write for publication academia, etc.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      There are lots of topics here, but three places to start are (1) that we’re dealing here with incredibly inconsequential matters of orthographic practice (having nothing to do with the spoken language); (2) that there’s no body that legislates national style sheets (within a nation, style sheets differ in many ways; in fact, it seems that the Economist is very much in the minority in the U.K. on the treatment of ordinal numbers); and (3) that the virtues of consistency are dubious at best in most of these cases of “mechanical” matters, and the costs of trying to enforce consistency can be high, especially when weighed against the other tasks demanding the time of writers and copyeditors.

      I write an enormous amount (for audiences in many parts of the world), and I have my own practices in mechanical style. why shouldn’t I?

  2. mollymooly Says:

    Given that British numeric dates are dd/mm/yyyy, I am surprised how many British style guides favour “month, dd” [Economist] or “month dd” [Telegraph] over “dd month” [Guardian]

    “13_January_2011” saves you not just two letters but also a pesky comma. And once you get into abbreviated months, “13_Jan_2011” seems much neater than “Jan_13,_2011”.

  3. mollymooly Says:


    “month dd,” [Economist]


  4. The Ridger Says:

    A lot of people would say “I met him on September thirteenth two thousand eleven” though. More might say “on September the thirteenth”, or “the thirteenth of September”. I don’t thin anyone would say “September thirteen two thousand eleven”.

    I tend to write days as 13 Sep 2011 to avoid the comma. I also tend to write Sep 13 by itself just because I hate the way my office word program (why, yes; it is Office Word) make the th superscript.

Leave a Reply