Why does the US use MM/DD/YYYY? ( middle-endian)

Curious about Language

Senior Member
Australia, English
Ok, I know this is not strictly a language issue, but it is something I have been curious about for some time.

Most countries in the world tend to use DD/MM/YYYY (The UK, Australia, etc) or YYYY/MM/DD (Japan, China, etc). Both of which make sense. However, I have yet to see any explanation of the MM/DD/YYYY system. The system of small to big or big to small both make sense, but medium-small-big makes no sense to me whatsoever. According to wikipedia, the only countries that use the MM/DD/YYYY system are the US, the Philippines, Palau, Canada, and Micronesia. I would presume these other countries, being close to or influenced by the US, have picked it up from the US, indicating that it is a US creation. If anyone can shed some light on this, I would be most grateful!
 
  • cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Like much of American English, you can blame it on the British. I don't know when the convention began, but it was in use in the American Colonies before there was a U.S. of A. Note the first words of the Declaration of Independence:

    In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

    I wonder if a search of books published in England in that period used the same style?

    I'll go have a look and report back.
     

    Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    How would English speakers outside of the US say dates?
    Don't they say the same? In England for example....
    Although, like myself, E. de V. is Canadian, he uses the same system as the U.S. I, on the other hand, have always used DD/MM/YYYY. As per usual, Canadians don't have one hard and fast system. Heck, we're still using Imperial as well as metric weights and measures. Are we flexible or just wishy-washy?.....
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Googling the subject, I found a few vague references to the fact that England used this system, possibly around the time that the U.S. was colonized. I can't find any specific dates related to that. Several articles mention 1900 as the year when England switched back from middle-endian dates (mm/dd/yyyy) to little-endian dates (dd/mm/yyyy).
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Although, like myself, E. de V. is Canadian, he uses the same system as the U.S. I, on the other hand, have always used DD/MM/YYYY. As per usual, Canadians don't have one hard and fast system. Heck, we're still using Imperial as well as
    I don't know about wishy-washy, but you have managed to duck the thread topic. This is not a general free-for-all about who uses which format.

    The thread starter appears to be looking for the reasons or origins of a specific format.


    Try popping a search string into Google Books, and look for those printed in England in the 18th century. You will quickly find the Month/Day/Year format in works published before there was a U.S. or a Canadian nation. I tried this: "June *, 17**" date:1700-1799

    The first item was a book printed in 1773 in Cambridge, England. It used Jan.1, 177x,
    and also text such as "the 14th of May, year of Our Lord, xxxx."

    As has happened with many other BE usages, the older one continues on in the colonies, having gone out of fashion in the country of origin.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Here's another, "January I. 1724."
    Edinburgh

    The Tea-table Miscellany By Allan Ramsay
    Published 1724
    Printed by Mr. Thomas
    Ruddiman, for Allan
    Ramsay
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I can't shed any light on the "Why?"

    However, (he said trying to stay somewhat on topic), I would submit that , if a citation in support of one format or the other, spells out the month in letters (completely or in abbreviated form), it is not responsive to the OP's question. In such cases there is no ambiguity possible. I grew up in Britain and often saw the month referenced in Roman numerals and the date in Indian (aka Arabic) numerals. There was a convention where Roman always signified month. Again, no ambiguity. To me, the only internally self-consistent and unambiguous format is the YYYY, MM, DD, HH, SS etc where the units of time get steadily smaller from left to right ( just like number formats where there is no variation on a theme).

    cuchuflete - I just noticed your citation (in post #7) where you used the month spelled out, the date as a Roman "numeral"* and the year in Indian (aka Arabic) numerals. Is this a faithful transcription ? Or an example of the use of the letter I as an acceptable alternative to the number 1, something seen more and more frequently these days?
    * The Romans didn't actually have "numerals", so they used letters for both :)
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    I agree with cuchu completely about this: as with many other things (for example, the word "guess", the use of "gotten"), the American practice would have been the standard British practice in 1700, while the modern British practice would have seemed strange and wrong to the British of several hundred years ago.

    I would say, though, that I really do not believe Curious About Language when he(she?) says:
    Most countries in the world tend to use DD/MM/YYYY (The UK, Australia, etc)
    From what I have seen and heard, Britons, Australians, and others have no problem saying "My birthday is July sixteenth", and certainly do not limit themselves to "My birthday is sixteen July". The American practice is thus a reflection of what people actually say.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I agree with cuchu completely about this: as with many other things (for example, the word "guess", the use of "gotten"), the American practice would have been the standard British practice in 1700, while the modern British practice would have seemed strange and wrong to the British of several hundred years ago.

    I would say, though, that I really do not believe Curious About Language when he(she?) says:

    From what I have seen and heard, Britons, Australians, and others have no problem saying "My birthday is July sixteenth", and certainly do not limit themselves to "My birthday is sixteen July". The American practice is thus a reflection of what people actually say.
    I think the issue here is confined to the writing of a date in numerals only, GWB, such as "9/11/2008", which is November 9th, 2008 in a large number of countries and September 11th, 2008 in only a very few countries. It is one of those international issues that I have had to deal with as a programmer for more than a few decades now. :)
     

    una madre

    Senior Member
    Western Canada English
    It is one of those international issues that I have had to deal with as a programmer for more than a few decades now. :)
    Thank you JamesM. You are correct and I struggle with this weekly in dealing with a number of banking establishments and government agencies. Some banks like DD/MM/YYYY; others require MM/DD/YYYY and our federal government's forms are all formatted: YYYY/MM/DD. Other agencies, institutions, businesses and levels of government are all over the map!
     

    roxcyn

    Senior Member
    USA
    American English [AmE]
    I'm guessing because that is how it is said in USA. I have thoughts that it was probably somehow to be different from UK, too. Actually it's not always like that for example if you look on receipts for many companies (in USA) the date sometimes will show 02June2008 (DDMMYYYY) and time like 15:00 (24 hour time instead of 12 hour time).


    In a way you are right it's kind of strange that it's different then again we don't use the metric system a lot, either. However, I believe it has sometime to do with being different. On a side note, I say time in 24 hour system, and date things as DDMMYYYY...so it's not like the MMDDYYYY is required to be used or anything, right?

    Have a nice day.

    Pablo
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    The question, though, James, was "why does the US write that?" My point is that the US writes that because the US says that -- and what is more, the US is not alone in saying that.
    I see what you're saying. In English television programs and films depicting a business setting I have heard, "Regarding your letter dated 7 November, we have..." It is an interesting mix of styles they have, too.

    I guess you could make a case that we are more consistent in saying and writing things consistently.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    As I said in #8 ".. I would submit that , if a citation in support of one format or the other, spells out the month in letters (completely or in abbreviated form), it is not responsive to the OP's question. .." This would apply to anything said also

    Couple of interesting items:
    USA celebrates Independence on the "Fourth of July".
    On US Customs and Immigration forms for all entering the US, the date is required in the DDMMYYYY format! Perhaps this is because (at least most of) the rest of the world does use that and they'd get too many forms filled out incorrectly??

    By the way, I say with equal ease "I was born on the 5th of September" and "I was born on September 5th" but perhaps that is because I am a dual USA-GBR citizen!
     

    Polixenes

    Member
    English - English
    The question, though, James, was "why does the US write that?" My point is that the US writes that because the US says that -- and what is more, the US is not alone in saying that.
    I usually hear Americans refer to 'the 4th of July' rather than 'July 4th.' For other dates their usage is the opposite way round. Is Independence Day a unique exception to the normal US format?
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    Americans will say "the fourth of July", or "the first of June", or "the twenty-fifth of December", but always with that word "of". If the "of" is removed, Americans would not say "fourth July", or "four July", but instead would say "July fourth". (And by the way, the engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence, written at that time, says "July 4, 1776."

    I am willing to bet that in ordinary conversation most British speakers do the same thing: they might refer to "the second of February", but not "two February", and they would also commonly say "February second".

    Would any British speakers care to comment?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I am willing to bet that in ordinary conversation most British speakers do the same thing: they might refer to "the second of February", but not "two February", and they would also commonly say "February second".

    Would any British speakers care to comment?
    We'd say "the second of February " or "February the second":)

    I don't think it explains anything either way about the writing of dates DD/MM or MM/DD....
     
    Last edited:

    Polixenes

    Member
    English - English
    I agree entirely, we wouldn't speak with the format "2nd February" in the UK.

    When you said "My point is that the US writes that because the US says that" I was in total agreement - in my experience Americans will prefer to say "October 5th" over "the 5th of October", hence they write 10/5/2008 rather than 5/10/2008, but it struck me that "the 4th of July" is treated differently in US speech. Perhaps I'm wrong and haven't paid enough attention.
     

    Esca

    Senior Member
    ATX
    USA - English
    You're right, Polixenes...
    But if I were speaking about the calendar date, when making an appointment for example, I would call it July 4th, just as I would say October 17th.
    If I were speaking about the holiday (Independence Day), I would call it The Fourth of July.

    Adding both "the" and "of" makes it too long-winded to use day-to-day, thus we'll often say "October 17th," not "the 17th of October." However, that form does sound more "important" for the name of a holiday like the Fourth of July.
     

    MikeLynn

    Senior Member
    I must admit that I was really surprised to hear something like "July second" on a TOEFL tape. The absence of the definite article really caught me off guard especially after I'd learned that the exam was really "Grammatically Correct". I had always thought it was some kind of colloquial usage.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Anyone is welcome to scour Google Books or similar for lots of examples of English books
    printed in the 17th and 18th centuries which include examples such as those I posted earlier. What I found most interesting was the variety, often in a single volume, of date expressions. Yes, the "I" is an exact transcription.

    So much for historical antecendants of modern AE usage. US speech, as stated by many here, uses a variety of formats. The MM/DD/YYYY convention follows the most frequent spoken convention.

    What I don't know anything about is when people, whether AE or BE or OzE or others, began to use the DD and MM and YY (or YYYY) notations. I am speculating that the order of those Ds and Ms reflected spoken usage of the time and place, and that there is, therefore, a direct link between speech and notation. Ideas and facts to the contrary are welcome. I'd like to understand this better, even if I'm wrong.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Another approach to the OP's question would be to ask three questions (not easily searched)
    1) When did the month start being described by a number rather than letters (and presumably only in written usage)?*
    2) Did BE and AE move to numbers at the same time?
    3) Did BE and AE ever use the same format?

    * Having grown up in UK without it, it took me quite some time before I didn't have to think about what month was meant by a given number - this tells me that the use of numbers to describe months in written formats was uncommon, but with n=1 :)
     

    Curious about Language

    Senior Member
    Australia, English
    Wow, I am really pleased by the amount of discussion this post has generated! Thank you all for your posts, ideas, and research!

    Cuchuflete, thanks for checking google books, the Roman "numeral" convention for date was interesting, I am familiar, courtesy of British TV and movies with them still being used for years occasionally, but never heard them used for dates in English before. The American declaration of independence being written in the middle-endian system was also interesting, and as you say, it indicates this middle-endian system predates the existence of the US.

    GreenWhiteBlue, on the issue of Australian English speakers, in terms of writing, we use DD/MM/YYYY. I now reside in Japan, where along with American English being the standard form of English, the American date system is used when speaking English. Until I came here, however, I would always say the date as "The 28th of June" style, and still do when I am speaking with Australians or speakers of British English. When talking to Americans or Japanese people I tend to speak in the American fashion.
     
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