A Rhapsodic Post: Pi Day, Dates, and US vs UK English

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When I was scrolling through the http://www.duolingo.com message boards earlier today, I saw a post with the curious title “Happy Pi Day!”. I thought, ‘that’s odd’, so I clicked on the thread. The poster didn’t bother explaining what “Pi Day” was, and nobody else had posted, so I thought nothing else of it and clicked off.

But just now I’ve seen another reference to “Pi Day”. What the hell is this thing?, I thought. Being a trendy Londoner, I don’t like to feel I’m not “in on it”, whatever “it” is. Thankfully, this time the phenomenon was explained. “Pi Day” is the day when the date spells out the first few figures of pi (π):

3/14/15 (that is, 3.1415…)

Before I go on, Pi (π), if you thought it had something to do with tigers or boats, is the number which expresses the ratio between the circumference of a circle and its diameter (that is, the distance from edge to edge across the centre). So the circumference of a circle is 3.14159… times the distance across a circle.

Back to the topic at hand. Frankly, none of this “Pi Day” malarkey makes any sense whatsoever here in the UK. Here, the days and months take the reverse order: the fourteenth day of the third month is expressed “14/03” not “03/14” as in America. Therefore, there never can be a “Pi Day” in the UK.

So, like the “World Series”, everyone in the world can celebrate “International Pi Day” – so long as you only count America. Those Americans, eh: what are they like, with their misnomers, sports that no one else plays, and lack of passports, et cetera? Incidentally, the most annoying thing about American insularity is British newspapers who humour yanks by pretending that there even is such a thing as Pi Day!

Dating systems in the world: look who's on their own, being difficult to the sake of it, yet again...

Dating systems in the world: look who’s on their own, being difficult for the sake of it, yet again…

But really, like all differences between the UK and the US, there is a little rivalry, sure, but it’s mostly in jest and good natured. We shake our heads for their prudish use of “bathroom” when they want to ask where they can have a shit (it’s a called a “toilet”! You’re not off to have a bath, are you!? It won’t even have a bath in it in a public place!), and they shake their heads at our use of “u” in “colour”, “favour”, and “labour” despite none of these words having a “u” in the original form we borrwed them from French.

But who is right, who is wrong? Which system is better: 3/14/15 or 14/3/15?

I’ve always found the British system more logical for the very simple system that days come before months which themselves come before years. That is, day/month/year is logical inasmuch as we are going from smallet to largest. Furthermore, most of the world uses the same system as the UK.

Ergo, ipso facto (using Latin makes me both clever and right), the UK system — 14/03/15 — is clearly superior, and “Pi Day” is a sham based on an error.

On the other hand…

There is a third option, however, and that is to put the years first! My documents and files on my PC are actually organised in this way. I used to organise my files the British way, e.g., “14.03.2015_ApplicationForm”. But I very quickly, many years ago, gave up on the British system. Why? It’s simply that all 14s end up together in the UK system, when what we really want is all the years to be grouped together, followed by months, followed by days of that month. This system goes from largest unit to smallest, the opposite of the British system. It’s the most logical of all.

Which means that months really should come before days… But Pi Day is still a sham as it can never really occur… except for the 9th of May in the year 3141AD: 3141/5/9. How I long to see that historic Pi Day, the true Pi Day. It’ll be a long wait, but surely worth it.

featured image from http://logcabincooking.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/pi-day-61.jpg

map of the world’s date systems from http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Date_format_by_country

© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry

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