Beautiful date formats

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.

Out of orifice emails

The Outlook interface for creating and editing your out-of-office email response is dreadful. In Outlook 2007, it constitutes a text-box four lines high, maybe 350 pixels wide for entering raw, unformatted text. Keep typing and you’ll get a vertical scrollbar.

And the interface does not allow for spell-checking.

The dreadfully constrained interface and the lack of a spell-checker make for out-of-office emails littered with typos and grammatical heathenry, an email that is sent to way more people than any other.  I would estimate that over half of those I receive contain at least one error.

Today’s examples:

Please.  Copy your email into Word.  Read it, check it and double-check it before turning your out of office on.  Thank you.

Too high for Nate

Lots of sites, both professional and otherwise, seem to be using a double-hyphen when they mean to use an em dash.  It’s as if they know that they need a long dash, but can’t be arsed to insert one.

The double-hyphen looks hideous, but it’s as if I should give them credit for trying.  How about trying a bit harder and typing ALT+0151 (on the number keypad, not the top row).  Or if you’re in WordPress (I am, don’t you know), hit the Insert Custom Character button sporting a Ω symbol, having hit the Show/Hide Kitchen Sink button).  The em dash can be found on the second row, fifth symbol from the right.

Here you’ll find more on the correct use of hyphens, en dashes and em dashes.

This and next: difference of opinion

OK. So it seems that response has finally tailed off on my this week or next week quiz. The 22nd and most recent responder submitted their response a second before 09:23 this morning.

And what an interesting set of results we have. Only two of the ten questions yielded unanimity. On any given Monday, it seems This Thursday will never result in confusion, nor will Next Monday.

The phrase most likely to cause confusion is Next Sunday when used on a Monday. 55% of responders believe it to mean the next Sunday to occur; 45% believe it to mean the one after that. And arranging a meeting This Monday on a Monday will also likely get people turning up on the wrong day. 64% think the meeting is scheduled a week from today, 36% thinking it’s happening today.

For completeness, below are the rest of the results.

Best be careful next time you use this and next in relation to dates. It’s more confusing than you might think. The quiz is still open, btw, if you’re interested in submitting your views.

This week or next?

I’ve written before about how people use the words this and next when referring to weeks. And the ensuing confusion. I’d love it if you could complete the ten questions below to figure out whether people are consistent in their views, or whether confusion reigns.

This was prompted by my friend Alan, reading from Austria a reader’s letter on the very subject in yesterday’s Telegraph.

Thanks for your time. (One submission each, please.)

Confusion to follow

Here’s a quick addendum to my previous post explaning the confusion of toggles such as Mute and Unmute. I think the BlackBerry Storm has taken a step forward with its choice of Mute and Mute Off. Altough I’m not sure why. Mute Off could equally be read as a noun as opposed to a verb. Maybe the fact that it’s made up of two words signifies more of an undoing action.

The issue surrounds the abbreviation of the English language to the point at which verbs and nouns become indistinguishable.

The same is true in Twitter. A user’s page includes text showing X following and Y followers. Only by looking at the Y followers piece can I get my head around the fact that the X refers to the number of people that the person is following, as opposed to the number following that person.

It’s a dull subject, but from a user experience perspective, Twitter needs to sort it out, either graphically or editorially.

Grammar: supply and demand

As grammar and spelling standards continue to slide and txt-speak continues to gain prevalence, will demand for skills in grammatical correctness (e.g. proofreading) increase because of the shortage of skilled resources, or decrease owing to the reduced demand?

The space line continuum

The space immediately after a link should never form part of the link itself. And the space after a portion of a sentence emphasised via a different fount should never share that of the emphasised portion.

Laziness through double-click and "intelligent" drag selecting gives an outcome that jars. With me at least.

Damp squid

I was in a meeting today in which someone referred to something as being a "bit of a damp squid". Surely dampness is an important state for a squid.

Carriage return, line feed

I read with interest and some amusement today’s news of Luc Costermans breaking the world blind road speed record.

My favourite part of the article was the paragraph-hungry BBC’s decision to separate these two sentences into two paragraphs.

Two years ago Mr Costermans completed a tour of France piloting a light aeroplane.

He was accompanied by an instructor and a navigator.

Surely the second sentence is a sufficient qualification of the first to negate the need for the carriage return, line feed.

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