I’ve struggled with date formats for some time now. Formats for dates that don’t need to be interpreted by computers that is, those that appear in documents. For the sake of example, we’ll use the sixth day of December last year.
While in America, I did as the Americans. Shorthand was 12/6 (or “twelve six” when voiced). Longhand, it was December 6, 2008. When combined with the year, it always struck me as slightly odd that the specificity was inconsistent from left to right: first came the month, which was then made more specific with the day. Yet at this stage, the reader doesn’t yet know the year. In the UK’s DD/MM/YYYY format, specificity decreases from left to right. Although arguably, what use is the day without first knowing the month?
The comma in the American longhand version was necessary to separate the two numbers. At first, I was uncomfortable with the proximity of these two numbers. But over time, I came to regard it as an attribute rather than a hindrance. And I came to adore the longhand variant.
(The shorthand version continued to confuse me throughout my two years there, and mentally I had to deconstruct the two numbers bleated out to figure out what they represented, particularly for days in the first twelve of the month. Not ideal, being a project manager.)
Now back in the UK, I’ve recently settled on a format that I’m comfortable with. In Excel, we’d say d mmmm, yyyy. In English: 6 December, 2008. Where the year is redundant, I simply opt for 6 December. Never should either be preceded with a jarring the. (My word do I hate that?) When talking of a month, I use December 2008, without the intervening comma—it’s too short to warrant one.
For the full variation, I like its simplicity. I’ve never been a big fan of the superscripts that come into play with ordinal numbers—when I do use ordinals, I always reject MS Word’s auto-formatting, leaving them in standard font—6th. And I feel that the comma is necessary to give some rhythm to the construct. As for the months, I feel that our Gregorian legacy is sufficiently poetic and inspiring for the months not to be abbreviated. Let’s save that crime for data files.