Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style (dates and numbers)/Archive 13

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Stating use BP or MYA for prehistory is too vague. Use MYA, then kYA (thousand years ago - especially useful when talking about the Mesolithic), then BP. Then in late prehistory, start using BC, optionally for the Neolithic, definitely anything about the Bronze Age or Iron Age.

Another issue is that authorities differ on use of BCE. Some people use it interchangeably with BC. Some academics, however, (notably a certain prehistorian in my department), insist there is a year 0 CE (but not AD 0, 0 BC, or 0 BCE), meaning that if someone writes 404 BCE, it is ambiguous as to whether they meant 404 BC or 405 BC. The relevance of this discrepancy is limited almost solely to the Mediterannean after about the 8th Century BC, so in most cases the ambiguity doesn't matter.

Another thing which might need mentioning is that bc and ad mean totally different things from BC and AD. 1500 bc isn't the same as 1500 BC, nor is 1400 bc exactly a century after 1500 bc. Lower case bc and ad refer to uncalibrated radiocarbon dates, and should strictly speaking be quoted with a standard error. You will also see a (rather confusing) convention of giving uncalibrated radiocarbon dates in BP (as radiocarbon dating being of use doesn't overlap TOO much with the part of prehistory in which one starts talking about BP rather than BC) and calibrated ones in Cal AD and Cal BC.

Anyway, the article as it stands is a bit simplistic on eras, so some of this at least probably should go in. (Anonymous comment from

I added kYA and a note about BCE not having a year 0. I didn't act on your other comments: the Manual of Style can't and shouldn't explain everything, lest its length prevent people from reading and following it. The details of prehistoric dating, and of calibrated and uncalibrated dating should have articles in the encyclopedia proper to which the Manual of Style can briefly refer (in the way it currently refers to detailed articles at New Year and Gregorian calendar). Perhaps you would like to expand the relevant sections at Prehistory and Radiocarbon dating? Gdr 11:36, 2004 Nov 17 (UTC)
I've reverted your additions. I think kYA is little known and do not think we should encourage using it. Instead of encouraging more usage of confusing abbreviations we should discourage them. This also applies to usage of BP, MYA, etc. (at least unless those terms are defined when first used in an article). On the BCE point, I'm not sure we need a comment to disambiguate from the usage by one prehistorian. Although, if there really is a body of academics who use the term differently from everyone else, perhaps we should change and require BC/AD. jguk 19:55, 17 Nov 2004 (UTC)
Requiring BC/AD is no solution. Until quite recently, virtually all Maya historians assumed that a year zero existed between BC and AD as can be seen by the ubiquitous statement that the epoch of the Long Count of the Maya calendar was in 3113 BC, whereas it is in 3114 BC when no year zero is used. One historian narrowed it a bit by explicitly stating, in print, that a year zero does exist between BC and AD in the Gregorian calendar but not in the Julian calendar. The current statement that "there was no year 0" in the Wikipedia timeline is acceptable, and the link serves as a disambiguation for other year zeros which do exist in astronomical year numbering, and Hindu and Buddhist calendars. — Joe Kress 20:32, Dec 1, 2004 (UTC)
I don't think anyone was seriously suggesting a 0 BC or AD 0. If what you say is true, it sounds like a genuine mistake. I was surprised at the claim that some claimed there was a 0 BCE or 0 CE, but am open to persuasion on the point. jguk 23:25, 1 Dec 2004 (UTC)

Traditional dates.

Perhaps these no special handling, but what is the best way to deal with dates that are tradional within a relgious or other group. Specifically the Mahabharata is tradionally said to have been composed in 1316 BCE. I want to indicate the status of this date, especially in lists where a long discussion of the date is inappropriate. Is "trad. 1316" clear? Also which is better, "c.", "c." or "about". Zeimusu 06:11, 2004 Nov 21 (UTC)

How about: "The Mahabharata is traditionally said to have been composed in 1316 BCE." Maurreen 06:42, 21 Nov 2004 (UTC)
I just want to note that we shouldn't use the abbreviation "trad." (at least without introducing the term in that article). Though it may seem obvious to you what it means, some people would see it as jargon. The Manual of Style (dates and numbers) suggests we use "c." when identifying an approximate date as opposed to any other abbreviation, but is not explicit in this. You may, however, prefer Maurreen's suggestion anyway. jguk 09:23, 21 Nov 2004 (UTC)
Maurreen's suggestion is good. It would be even better to cite the source for the tradition. For example, "according to Livy, the Roman Republic was founded in 509 BC" (it's a traditional date, but Livy is our best source for the tradition). Another example, from History of Japan: "February 11, 660 BC is the traditional founding date of Japan by Emperor Jinmu Tenno. This however is a version of Japanese history from the country's first written records dating from the 6th to the 8th centuries" Gdr 13:40, 2004 Nov 21 (UTC)
I've added a note to this effect to the project page. Zeimusu

Superscript ordinals

There seems to be a recent fad for superscripting the suffixes ordinal numbers, making century links read something like [[20th century|20<sup>th</sup> century]], for example. I think this looks particularly ugly, even when browsers don't mess about with the leading to make the text fit. I'd like to suggest we make it a policy not to do this. Opinions? — OwenBlacker 16:39, Nov 24, 2004 (UTC)

I agree, we should discourage superscripting such suffixes. —AlanBarrett 17:23, 24 Nov 2004 (UTC)
I agree with OwenBlacker - ban them. Then search for them and deleting them. No point in just discouraging them - people will only say it's not a ban and so has no effect. jguk 18:22, 24 Nov 2004 (UTC)
Yes, ban them. Gdr 11:28, 2004 Nov 25 (UTC)

ISO 8601

The Manual of Style allows dates to be stated in ISO 8601 style, requiring hyphens to separate the year, month, and day, which is the extended format in ISO 8601. When using this form, Wikipedia properly converts the year to the other acceptable forms, but only from year 0001. Although the 1988 first edition did not mention earlier years, the 2000 second edition requires that earlier years be given in astronomical year numbering, with a year 0000 immediately before 0001, and year -0001 immediately before 0000. However, the Wikipedia software does not properly convert these years into the Wikipedia timeline of 2 BC, 1 BC, and 1. Even ignoring the year 0000, the explicit use or a minus sign should signal the software to convert -0010 to 11 BC, but it actually converts -0010 to 9 BC.

In addition, the new edition explicitly requires all dates for years before 1583 to be given in the proleptic Gregorian calendar, yet the Wikipedia software does not convert them into the Julian calendar. Admittedly, most people would probably ignore this latter requirement, and give all early ISO 8601 style dates in whatever form they found them, usually in the Julian calendar. — Joe Kress 21:20, Dec 1, 2004 (UTC)

It would be disastrous for Wikipedia to display or require dates in the proleptic Gregorian calendar. Gdr 22:07, 2004 Dec 1 (UTC)

"22:00" or "22:00 hours"

Should times be written with or without "hours" following them? ("It happened at 22:00." or "It happened at 22:00 hours."?) — Flamurai 20:16, 10 Dec 2004 (UTC)

I would stongly recommend against including the word "hours". It's redundant: the colon, along with the context, will always make it clear that it's a time of day. In spoken English, it occassionally may be helpful to use "hours" to remove ambiguity, but it's never necessary in writing. Indefatigable 21:31, 10 Dec 2004 (UTC)
I agree; "22:00" is fine.
James F. (talk) 03:22, 11 Dec 2004 (UTC)
I concur. I think it's an issue of Americans not being used to the 24-hour format. — Flamurai 06:44, 11 Dec 2004 (UTC)

I think "hours" is a US military thing. We're international civilians here, so "22:00" is fine. Gdr 10:13, 2004 Dec 11 (UTC)

IX Century

We don't appear to say anything about the use of the form "'roman numeral' century". Is it to be avoided. It shows up a lot in Polish pages I have noted. Rmhermen 04:19, Dec 11, 2004 (UTC)

The well-established practice in English writing is to use Arabic numerals: "14th century". In French, and possibly other European languages such as Polish, Roman numerals are often used ("XIVe siècle"). When you see a Roman numeral, it's probably a non-native user of English accidently bringing the habits from his or her native language, similar to forgetting the capitals on "proper adjectives", such as "english" or "asian". Roman numerals should be changed to Arabic for uniformity's sake. Indefatigable 05:10, 11 Dec 2004 (UTC)
I have been. I was just wondering if we needed to note this in the Manual of Style. Rmhermen 19:28, Dec 11, 2004 (UTC)
  • Yes, but not so much for uniformity (if that were such a worthy concern we'd be systematically Americanizing the spelling) as for immediate comprehensibility: Roman numerals beyond about VI are esoteric (and thus slowly decoded) for native speakers of English, being used almost exclusively for
  • pretension (Superbowl XXVII), or
  • being able to prove you provided a date, without having the average reader glance at it and say "gosh, i didn't realize how last-year this is" (All rights reserved, MCMLXXXIV), or
  • clockfaces (but i think that's completely last-century).
BTW, the Roman-numeral centuries are German, too, IIRC.
--Jerzy(t) 20:05, 2004 Dec 17 (UTC)

Percent symbol with space?

Assuming a context where it's inappropriate to write out "percent", what are (or what should be) the guidelines on how to format a number with a "%" symbol? Are there regional or journalistic vs scientific writing styles? I'm confused because NIST [1] (as well as ISO-31) requires a space between the number and the "%", yet you're much more likely to find "10%" instead of "10 %", even in articles that are clearly 'SI'. Femto 13:26, 14 Dec 2004 (UTC)

I think using a space is unusual. Maurreen 17:54, 14 Dec 2004 (UTC)

Those guides are already referenced for several other Wikipedia number style issues. So far they're the 'most correct' international English scientific style recommendations that I know of. Obviously, this doesn't appear to be the preferred way of writing the percent symbol, and I don't know which style to use, let alone how to copyedit existing articles. Could there be some clear and simple recommendation in the Manual of Style, and what should it say? Femto 22:46, 15 Dec 2004 (UTC)

The de facto standard in use in (as far as I know) all English speaking nations is to not use a space. However, there is no readability issue, IMO, either way.
If the Manual of Style should recommend anything, it should be not to use a space. However, is there a pressing need for the MoS to specify anything about this topic? We should avoid instruction creep in situations like this. So far, we have identified that:
  • Common written English usage is to format without a space
  • Scientific style guides specify the use of a space
  • This is an inconsistency.
However, IMO, for something to be included in the style guide, it should be to address actual problems, not just mere inconsistencies. I can't see a problem being identified above, unless one is of the mindset that inconsistencies and lack of clear instruction is a problem. If we leave well alone and don't put a ruling in the MoS, what are the consequences? That's what we have to address. To my mind, the consequences are:
  • Most Wikipedia editors continue to enter percentages as they always do, without spaces. This poses no readability nor intelligibility problems.
  • Some scientifically trained editors used to writing in the style specified by NIST, ISO et al. write percentages as they have been taught to do, with a space. This poses no readability nor intelligibility problems.
  • The overwhelmingly vast proportion of Wikipedia readers neither notice nor care.
As far as I can see, the only possible problem is that some over-zealously correct editor takes it upon themselves to reformat all percentages in Wikipedia to conform to their personal preference (spaced or spaceless), and a flamewar erupts. This might be a sufficient future possibility to put a line in the MoS saying 'Both forms are acceptable on Wikipedia', but I think that is the most the MoS needs to say on the subject, and I'm frankly not even convinced it needs to say even that. —Morven 00:40, Dec 16, 2004 (UTC)

I agree that the size of the style guide needs to be managed, but I disagree that a style issue has to become a problem to make it worthy of inclusion in the MoS, whose declared purpose is to "make things easy to read by following a consistent format" — There is a format inconsistency (if not a readability problem though, or even a very big one) that cannot be resolved by turning to other sources, but which would be easy to avoid. It should be of equal importance to work towards an uniform article style as it is to keep the rules simple.

The MoS includes many little rules of standard usage that are not necessary (in the sense that they are non-controversial and can be found elsewhere) but which are useful to have all in one place nevertheless. Among them is that, in a non-technical context, percentages should be written in natural language. But nothing about % in a technical context, even though there really are varying standards.

In my opinion the principle of least astonishment should be extended to what is not expected not to find on a page. I came earlier to this guide expecting to find examples on how to write common things such as the degree and percent symbols, but was disappointed there. My suggested edit would be to insert after "The reader should see a space between the value and the unit symbol: thus 25 kg and not 25kg.":

An exception are angular (but not temperature) degrees. It is also common practice not to put a space between a number and the "%" percent symbol (against some scientific styles).

and to include in the examples

  • There are 360° to a full circle.
  • The metal alloy melts at 71.7 °C (161 °F) and contains by weight 50% bismuth, 26.7% lead, 13.3% tin, and 10% cadmium.

Femto 13:05, 17 Dec 2004 (UTC)

I confess to not reading the whole debate before sticking in these two points:

  • Logically (he said, with a laugh at the idea of logic ruling any human behavior, let alone speech), the space is offensive. Percent is from Latin, something like "per centum" meaning "for [each] hundred". "16%" means
  • "16 out of a hundred" and thus
  • "percent" modifies "16" into "not really 16, but rather with a frequency of 16/100", whence
  • the odd-looking symbol "%" surely comes from "0/0" which presumably is
  • an impressionistic evocation of "/100", with the "obviously" needed 1 omitted as inferable and redundant, and the order of the remaining 3 symbols changed to speed cursive writing of them. (The fonts i am typing and reading in, and my %-key's label, represent % as simply circles or ovals, and a slash, but i still write it by hand as i was taught, joining the left circle to the top of the slash with a ligature, so they are really more like a "degrees" circle welded to a 7. The ligature helps the reader perceive % as a unit, and speeds writing by saving lifting the pen.)
So IMO omitting the space helps strengthen the association between the abstract symbol and its logical and historical meaning (16% is more like a mathematical expression than like "16 meters"), which helps the brain unconsciously assign the correct meaning to it with less competing mental noise like "Wait, what's the role of the space?" and "No, the thing after the space is unrelated to the thing after it." The number and the symbol constitute a unit of meaning (just as ".16" does) and perceiving that meaning is disrupted by separating them (as ". 16" would do).
  • The nature of standards is all over the map:
  • Some exist to encourage adherance to an already dominant practice.
  • Some are mechanisms to forge a mutually beneficial agreement within an industry without running afoul of anti-trust law.
  • Some are futile attempts by idealists to cram what is logical, or illogical but theoretically desirable, down the throats of illogical and self-defeating humans.
We should include
Wikipedia is not a marketing department for Official Standards.
Taking notice of standards is good; acting as if they were laws of nature or otherwise automatically deserving of adherance is just, uh, the kind of behavior that should be expected from people still suffering from the effects of a blow to the head.

--Jerzy(t) 19:26, 2004 Dec 17 (UTC)

Thank you for your comment. It convinced me that I shall not further pursue the issue whether the Manual of Style should contain examples of common and preferred usage in this case of conflicting styles to choose from. I will strengthen the advance of cultural diversity and aid your cause of clear and thematically coherent contributions to Wikipedia by not following any of the suggestions in its style guide. Femto 21:14, 17 Dec 2004 (UTC)

Links on non-full-length dates and centuries

What is the reason for necessarily linking to a date that is not directly relevant to the context of the article? Links should only be to articles relevant to the context of the article (aside from peculiarities like the date preference feature), and linking to all dates clutters and is makes linking less useful. - Centrx 02:39, 25 Dec 2004 (UTC)

I'm not sure whether there is a policy, but I agree with you. Maurreen
I would agree, except for the fact that this "linking" is what makes the Wikipedia "Preferences" you can set for display of dates on your browser work. Gene Nygaard 19:33, 28 Dec 2004 (UTC)
But that's irrelevant for just links to years, for example. Maurreen 19:48, 28 Dec 2004 (UTC)
Long-term, we might have the ability to transform calendars, as well as displays. Then it would be... a pain to go back through all the text and re-add the links.
James F. (talk) 03:43, 29 Dec 2004 (UTC)

Linking dates highlights that you are referring to a date rather than a number. It's not always obvious when some is referring to a date, particularly when dealing with dates in the first millennium, or with round number dates such as 2000 or 1500, jguk 23:17, 5 Jan 2005 (UTC)

So, then it should be policy that only numbers that are dates should be linked, otherwise there's nothing exclusive about the year linking, and any automated calendar system would be severely flawed..? - Centrx 21:50, 9 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Interesting numbers are located in article names such as 1 (number), 13 (number), 28 (number) and so on. I imagine there's only an occasional need to link to one of these anyway (a mathematical article???) and that where you are linking to them it is obvious from the context that you cannot be referring to the year. I'm not sure what you mean by an automated calendar system, so I can't respond to that point. Kind regards, jguk 22:17, 9 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Whether the article is referring to a date or just a number should be made clear by the writing, not by a link. Even if that is the purpose, it is not well served. Maurreen 04:50, 10 Jan 2005 (UTC)
The only good reason noted for linking to non-full length dates was that, in the "Long-term, we might have the ability to transform calendars, as well as displays", which is what I mean by automated calendar system, and if that system were in place then the problem would then become links to numbers that aren't dates. Other than that reason given here, it seems there is no good reason to link to non-full-length dates, and if that calendar reason is valid, then it seems that numbers should not be linked to. - Centrx 21:32, 22 Jan 2005 (UTC)