Little Endians, Middle Endians, and Big Endians
Different date formats in different languages
M. MICHAEL BRADY
Around the world, dates are written in so many ways that recently the International Students Office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) issued a white paper aimed to explain them (iso.mit.edu/americanisms/date-format-in-the-united-states).
The principal difference in the ways a date may be written are in its format, the order its essential information of day, month, and year (abbreviated D, M, and Y in discussions of them) are stated.
These differences are known as “endianness,” a word that comes from Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. In Gulliver’s Travels, there are two political factions, one committed to breaking a soft-boiled egg open at its large end and one equally committed to breaking a soft-boiled egg open at its small end. People of the large-end faction are known as “Big Endians,” and people of the small-end faction are known as “Little Endians.” At some unidentified time, these designations became descriptions of the way a society writes its dates. Writing the day first is the Little Endian format, while writing the year first is the Big Endian format. On this scale of designations, Americans are Middle Endians.
In the numerically aware world of today, the two principal date formats in terms of the number of countries in which they are used are the DMY format used by the majority of the world’s countries, including Norway, and the MDY format used principally in the United States and by The Times newspaper of London.
But in the end, most countries employ different date formats, depending on which domain they are operating in. Norway, like many other countries, uses three date systems:
DD.MM.YYYY (24.12.2006 for Christmas Eve) is the most common system, and is the one recommended by the Language Council of Norway. Dots are the most common separator, although you still see stroke and hyphen (especially in handwriting): 24/12-2005
MMMM D. YYYY is used in the Lule Sámi and Southern Sámi languages
YYYY-MM-DD, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) format, is used to some extent in official documents and in computer-related materials
Week numbering is also very common both written and orally, albeit less so in private life.
The week always begins on Mondays and ends on Sundays.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 8, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.