Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style (dates and numbers)/Archive 69

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Geological time

Is there currently a consencus on formatting of 'million years ago' dates? Do we use Ma, Myr, Mya, mya, MYA, etc? Also, should these be wikilinked? Perhaps it would be useful for them to be linked back to (e.g.) the Phanerozoic timescale with a suitable pointer inserted at the relevant point - more useful than linking 1963 to details of events in 1963 (he says contraversially...)?Verisimilus 20:13, 10 April 2007 (UTC)

I can't help you in terms of which acronym (if any) to use, but I can tell you this: If you use any acronym, then link it to something. Because I can tell you right now that, as a reader, I probably wouldn't know what 'mya' meant. Bladestorm 15:12, 10 April 2007 (UTC)
I've opted to use mya as the wiki page suggests that Ma is a more technical term used mainly in the literature, and that the general public prefers mya. I reluctantly agree that mya is more intuitive to the lay reader and thus prefereable.
I'm working on a template that will automatically linkify the years: the 'year' part to a geological time line, eventually with a pointer at the year in question; and the mya part to an explanation of the acronym. This will be easy to update if consensus is reached (or needed!). Verisimilus 20:14, 10 April 2007 (UTC)
Funny meeting you here. I was just checking a few guidelines before leaving a note on your talk page, and noticed your post here. Apparently, you don't need to link all dates, just when there is a month and a day involved (in which case the month and day are linked together, and the year separately; or all three together using ISO format — which is fine for refs but probably awkward in the body of an article). Otherwise, WP:CONTEXT is the controlling guideline. See #When did the year-without-date recommendations change? above. The examples are just misleading.
On MA vs. mya, there doesn't appear to be a standard. In my experience, "million years ago" is almost universal the first time it appears in an article on paleontology or geology. Later instances may or may not be abbreviated. When they are, "mya" seems more common, and it has the virtues of being easier to understand and easier to fit into a sentence; but Ma is more formal, and encylopedic writing is after all formal writing. | Pat 22:03, 10 April 2007 (UTC)
Seems I'm having a day of not reading things thoroughly. I scooted through that page and concluded that the years had to be wikified - however on looking back through for a way to clarify the page, I realised that it was in fact all there... Maybe I'll unlink the years. Though I've strangely grown to like their iridescent blue hue... Verisimilus 22:17, 10 April 2007 (UTC)
No, it's really unclear. I drew the same conclusion. Based on a quick spot check of featured geology and dinosaur articles, it looks like spelling it out is the way to go ("million years" or "million years ago"). I didn't find a single instance of either "Ma" or "mya", though I only checked a handful, and in more technical articles it's probably inevitable. | Pat 22:27, 10 April 2007 (UTC)
Despite my usual love of conciseness, I'm led to agree with your 'million years ago' approach. Even repeated three times in close proximity in the Ediacaran_biota lead, it looks far smarter, and makes for easier reading, than any abbreviation. Verisimilus 22:37, 10 April 2007 (UTC)
Additional note: usually Ma indicates an absolute age (such as 40.0 Ma, exactly 40 million years ago) while mya can be used as an abbreviation for million years ago, or my as million years. This is drawn from experience in the geological literature. There is some discussion among the international arbitration community on this issue (the ICS, international commission on stratigraphy) and interest in making Ma the term of reference for both a referent for periods of time (so many million years) as well as millions of years ago. See

Time formatting

I have two propositions regarding time formatting:

  • 1) That we be allowed to write 12:34 as 12.34 if we so wish. To the best of my knowledge, in the English-speaking world, though the colon is understood universally, it is favoured only in North America. I believe the use of a full stop to separate hours from minutes to be more "correct" in the English-speaking countries of Europe, Africa, Asia, South America and Oceania.
  • 2) That we be allowed to write 12 a.m. and 12 p.m. There is nothing remotely confusing about this concept. Should a reader be confused, I honestly feel that that particular reader should be reading the "Simple English" Wikipedia instead of the normal English form. This is an encyclopædia and is thus meant to be read by people with some degree of intelligence. I'm not suggesting that it should be an exclusive high-brow forum or any such thing, but surely the line must be drawn here. User:Jpbarrass 1.13 p.m., 15 April 2007
Sorry, I disagree with both of these.
  1. Although I'm British, 12.34 seems unnatural to me. And I worry that it could be in danger of being confused with a decimal point in some contexts.
  2. 12 a.m. and 12 p.m. are just wrong, and I find them confusing. I always have to think which way the convention goes. For a start, it's different from the convention for "midnight Wednesday", which is at the end of Wednesday. So "midnight Wednesday" is the same as "12 a.m. Thursday", if you allow 12 a.m.
Stephen Turner (Talk) 07:17, 15 April 2007 (UTC)
One main purpose of a manual of style is to remove multiple stylistic variants. Yet people come here all the time asking to weaken the recommendations of the MoS by introducing alternatives or fuzzying the wording. We used to have a very simple rule requiring “01:23” (24-hour clock, zero-padded, colon) for instance, easily understood “by people with some degree of intelligence”.
Anyhow, wasn’t the period notation typical for 12-hour clock without zero-padding, but with an ante/post meridiem indicator? Christoph Päper 13:28, 15 April 2007 (UTC)
I too oppose both of these ideas.
1) I'm Australian & I'm only familiar with the 12:34 form.
2) I agree that 12 a.m. and 12 p.m. are wrong and also find them confusing. I guess I must be thick or have I allowed myself to be so distracted by what "a.m." and "p.m." actually mean as to give no credence this convention which seem to have been plucked out of thin air?
Jimp 07:24, 17 April 2007 (UTC)

Date and Place of Birth and Death in biographical articles

All encyclopaedias I ever came across have the dates and the places of birth and death right after the name of the subject. It gives a general idea on the person and facilitates reading enormously. To separate the dates from the places (these to go in the main text only) means separating something that belongs together. The general guideline on this should be changed! In my articles I follow the traditional usage of putting datas and places in the introduction, not in the main text, unless there was something else to say about the birth or death, then it may be repeated in the main text. If somebody just looks up the general information on some famous person with a big article it is not easy to find the death place among Life, Trivia, Works and other sections, it might be hidden anywhere. Kraxler 17:32, 20 April 2007 (UTC)

I must say that all the reference works that I have to hand give only the years of birth and death directly after the person's name; the precise dates and places are left for the article. This approach means less clutter in the lead. That dates and places "belong together" is unclear; if they do, why not names of parents and place and date of birth? Cause of death and time and place of death? Don't they equally well "belong together"? --Mel Etitis (Talk) 16:38, 21 April 2007 (UTC)
The place for this discussion is on the talk page for WP:MOSBIO, not here. But I do not think the guideline should be changed, and if you so not like the guideline, you are not free to just ignore it. "Break the rules" means to consider the reader and break the rules in cases where the rules do not lead to good results, but it does not mean you can just break the rules because it is not the style you would choose. This is not your encyclopedia, it's our encyclopedia. Chris the speller 20:23, 14 May 2007 (UTC)

"English" in Eras section

"When either of two styles are acceptable it is inappropriate for a Wikipedia editor to change from one style to another unless there is some substantial reason for the change. For example, with respect to English spelling as opposed to American spelling it would be acceptable to change from American spelling to English spelling if the article concerned an English subject."(my italics)

I think what is meant here is "British". Does anyone have any objections if I change this? Soaringgoldeneagle 16:12, 21 April 2007 (UTC)

In fact, much of the time it's U.S. vs non-U.S. (including Canadian, Australian, South African, Indian, etc.) English. Still, "British" is certainly better than "English" here, yes. --Mel Etitis (Talk) 16:29, 21 April 2007 (UTC)

Greengrocer's apostrophe in decades

I've just reverted the deletion of a perfectly correct piece about not using greengrocer's apostrophes in decades (e.g., not "the 1970's" but "the 1970s"). Can anyone suggest an explanation for thinking that one should use an apostrophe in such cases? --Mel Etitis (Talk) 23:21, 21 April 2007 (UTC)

I was reading about this recently. Some U.S. copy-editors use it (as I recall) and I can't remember why, but I think the reasoning is probably the years belonging to the decade beginning 1970. SlimVirgin (talk) 01:05, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
According to this website, [1] the New York Times writes it with an apostrophe, reasoning that it's like the plurals of numbers and letters, as in p's and q's. SlimVirgin (talk) 01:16, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
But "p's and q's" is used because of the confusion and obscurity of "ps and qs", not because it's a correct way of dealing with the plural (and that's better solved by "Ps and Qs", as the article says). The NYT – or, at least, William Safire – seems confused on this. --Mel Etitis (Talk) 12:03, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
A pedant replies: Isn't it a "greengrocers' apostrophe"? Stephen Turner (Talk) 09:00, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
Depnds on whether you think it's "apostrophes as used by greengrocers" or "apostrophes used in the way a greengrocer uses them". I've seen both (and, to be honest, probably use them both in different places). --Mel Etitis (Talk) 12:03, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
There might be a case for using the apostrophe if one really were saying "the years which belong to 1970", but not when pluralising the years. The New York Times has more of a point; but I'd suggest it would only be necessary if describing an uncertain year or years from the decade, thus: "197x's". Otherwise, it's just redundant. Who, honestly, misunderstands "1970s"? – Kieran T (talk) 09:27, 22 April 2007 (UTC)

It's difficult to see what sense could be made of "years belonging to 1970" though (perhaps that was your point). The form mentioned by SlimVirgin ("the years belonging to the decade beginning 1970") makes a little more sense, but is still pretty peculiar and unintuitive — it's clearly a case of searching for a rationale for what they already do. --Mel Etitis (Talk) 12:03, 22 April 2007 (UTC)


The Currency section opens with a note about competing/overlapping proposals and then goes on to read.

Next it talks about which are not country specific. Then it talks about currency abbreviations. No recommendation has been made as to what currency to use then we come to the Conversions subsection which reads.

There's a hole here. We talk of an "original currency" but don't specify what is to be meant by such. You might assume that it were the currency as appears in the source. If so, should this perhaps be spelt out? However ... the section opened with instruction to use country-specific symbols ... symbols but how about currency? Of course, it would best to use the local currency when writing about specific regions (this will apply equally to time frames as to space frames). But what does one do when the source does not use local currency ... yeah, find a closer source but failing that ...?

I'd suggest the following guidelines for quoting currency in country-specific articles (where possible/convienient).

  1. Where the source quotes money in the local currency use that.
  2. Where the choice between currencies is arbitary prefer the local currency.
  3. Where the source quotes money in non-local currency use both.
    1. Where possible give preference to the local currency with non-local source currency in parentheses/footnotes but clearly distinguished as such.
    2. Otherwise give preference to the source currency with non-source local currency in parentheses/footnotes.
  4. In all cases conversions should be allowed (as per the current text).

Too much? How could we simmer it down? Surely we should fill the hole with something ... or am I just imagining this hole? Jimp 08:43, 24 April 2007 (UTC)

I kind of see what you're saying, but I'm not sure whether there's a problem in practice. Have you encountered difficulties on a specific article? Stephen Turner (Talk) 08:53, 24 April 2007 (UTC)
Not difficulties as such more puzzlement as to why an article specific to country X quotes money in the currency of country Y. You don't pay tolls on a Japanese highway, for example, in US dollars so why quote the fare in USD/mile? That's not so helpful especially for the potential traveller. Jimp 09:07, 24 April 2007 (UTC)
I think the intent is that the figure should be in Yen with a conversion into USD if the editor thinks it's helpful. I don't see what the problem is with the MoS text in this regard. Stephen Turner (Talk) 10:14, 24 April 2007 (UTC)
That seems to be the intent to me also. The problem as I see it would be that this intent can only really be seen if you more or less read between the lines. The MoS talks about using country-specific symbols. This would appear to imply the intent that country-specific currency be used. However, the implication is indirect. I suggest it might be better were this clearly to be stated rather than left to be inferrded. Jimp 16:53, 24 April 2007 (UTC)
I dunno, it doesn't seem unclear to me. I'm certainly not tempted to "fix" it with a longer version if it hasn't caused trouble. Stephen Turner (Talk) 20:43, 24 April 2007 (UTC)
Absolutely, don't fix what ain't broke but if it really ain't broke then why all the USDs @ France#Economy, Economy of France#Trade, Pakistan#Economy, Economy of Pakistan, Japan#Economy, Economy of Japan, Economy of Germany? Jimp 23:49, 24 April 2007 (UTC) ... And if one were to argue that these be converted, where exactly would one point ... to the spirit of the MoS? Jimp 01:02, 25 April 2007 (UTC)
I only looked at France#Economy, but that's a tough call because the point is to compare the GDP of many different nations, and USD is probably the natural choice. In this case, I would go with whatever the source text says, with a conversion to Euros if the source is in USD. In unclear cases, following the source is almost always the right thing to do. Stephen Turner (Talk) 10:24, 25 April 2007 (UTC)

Accusations of stalking in edit summaries (redux to Melanie)

You may wish to be more careful before calling users stalkers, Mel.[2] Frankly you disgust me, the mere thought of you possibly accusing me of stalking you disgusts me, you have an ego problem. Addendum: FYI I proposed reverting your crap on the 26th, I'm not the only one who disputes your change. Matthew 17:52, 28 April 2007 (UTC)

If you continue this sort of thing, you'll be blocked for personal attacks. --Mel Etitis (Talk) 18:00, 28 April 2007 (UTC)
To be frank I believe the only one heading for a block is your self... WP:POINT. Matthew 18:03, 28 April 2007 (UTC)

Removal of metric units and replacement by duplicate non-metric

See: Alaska Mental Health Enabling Act. Is it acceptable to revert the addition of metric units and add extra non-metric units to articles? Editore99 11:53, 5 May 2007 (UTC)

In general the former is not acceptable and the latter even less. In this case the square mile figures are also overly precise. — Christoph Päper 13:41, 5 May 2007 (UTC)
I'm not a big fan of metric units either, but they do have their place. They help to increase the understanding of readers who are not familiar with imperial measurements. Explain to the person changing them that the reverse is equally as true. That if the article was named the French Mental Health Enabling Act, it would be equally as unacceptable to remove any imperial units. If the editor wants to keep the square miles in the conversions that's fine but he needs to include the square kilometers and adjust the precision (as C.P pointed out). Also, the converted units need to be abbreviated to sq mi and km². —MJCdetroit 16:51, 5 May 2007 (UTC)
But is it really necessary to add a unit conversion after every single mention of a particular unit? I'm all for clarity, but this is just dumb repetition. It's particularly objectionable when people start altering original quotations. -- ChrisO 19:40, 5 May 2007 (UTC)
It appears to me that the metric conversions added to quotes were offset in square brackets, which indicates they are not part of the original quotation. The MOS seems to currently advocate using a footnote instead. — Aluvus t/c 00:00, 6 May 2007 (UTC)
The metric conversions in the quotes are unnecessary. If we've already established that a million acres equals 4,000 km², we don't need to repeat that conversion every time the million acres figure is mentioned. The MoS needs to be implemented sensibly. Right now we have a line which converts the same figures - 500,000 acres - twice in the same sentence. It's as though we're assuming that the reader will have forgotten the conversion after 10 words. That is just plain silly - we're not writing for idiots here. -- ChrisO 09:05, 6 May 2007 (UTC)
Um, I am a “fan” of metric units – or did your “either” not refer to me, MJCdetroit?
Imperial units should never be used in Wikipedia articles, except when they are the defining source (in opposition to an original measuring done in non-metric units); if English units are to be used for some reason, it’s US customary units!
To give an equivalence of a number of acres in square miles is usually not acceptable, they’re from the same system of measurement. One conversion to either square kilometres or hectares is recommended. If the same number occurs several times it doesn’t need to be followed by its conversion each time. — Christoph Päper 13:51, 6 May 2007 (UTC)
I was referring to the editor in question (which I beleive is ChrisO) who was removing metric units. As for not adding square miles, I am in favor of whatever promotes a better understanding. So if also adding square miles to the conversion helps give better understanding-- than I say it is ok. Imperial verse U.S. Customary—that's a whole other discussion that I'm not up for. —MJCdetroit 16:52, 6 May 2007 (UTC)


I just searched this entire document for "age" and "ages" and the words don't appear. What should we do with ages?:

  1. "sixteen years of age", "age twelve", "at twenty-eight", "five-year-old"
  2. "16 years of age", "age 12", "at 28", "5-year-old"

Despite being almost 1000 pages long, the Chicago Manual of Style 15th Ed. is ambiguous on the matter (and doesn't specifically address ages at all; a rather glaring oversight given how frequently this is done, especially in news reporting). I'm on the fence on this. I think that small numbers, like under-100, should be spelled out in non-technical works, with various exceptions like units of measure and sports statistics, as generally suggested by the CMoS. However I'm also well aware that newspapers and magazines generally don't, and use numerals. Then again, print journalism is often a terrible reference for grammar, spelling and style. Then yet again, from a more descriptive p.o.v., perhaps they reflect the genuine evolution of style as generally used and understood. And so on. It is more concise, and it is common to use numerals, but something tells me it is also sloppy and unprofessional looking. — SMcCandlish [talk] [cont] ‹(-¿-)› 00:45, 10 May 2007 (UTC)

I think that it helps to be consistent in a sentence or a list: If there's a 49 year old and an 8 year old it should be written that way instead of 49 and eight. But I've been told that most style guides don;t like this approach. DGG 18:51, 17 May 2007 (UTC)
According to most English books, proper grammer is to write out all number under 20; for example twelve, eight, two for all numbers under 20 and 34, 54, 323 for all numbers above 20; however, I am in agreement with DGG that it should be the same throughout the sentence. —User:Christopher Mann McKayuser talk 22:51, 18 May 2007 (UTC)

St Kilda, Scotland

Can people look at the two reverts of my edits to St Kilda, Scotland. It could be an ownership problem. Since I have tried twice to correct the article, I don't want to try a third time. Can somebody else try? Editore99 20:03, 13 May 2007 (UTC)