Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style (dates and numbers)/Archive 14

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Proposed revision

I have put a proposed revision on Wikipedia:Manual of Style (dates and numbers)/proposed revision. I am proposing that we explicitly state that "The general philosophy behind these rules is that date and number styles should be chosen so as to be readily understandable to as many people as possible. Remember, you are writing for the reader, not for yourself!" However, the revision also includes some slight tweaks to policy. Slight, because although some articles following current policy would not comply with the revision, the number of those articles is quite small.

Put simply, I think what I call "the general philosophy" above is important to have in an encyclopaedia that seeks to have a wide international readership, with readers from all backgrounds and schoolings. The emphasis should be to try to produce articles that everyone understand. No doubt this aim cannot always be achieved, yet it is good target to aim for, jguk 20:17, 23 Jan 2005 (UTC)

Who will be the arbiter of this "general philosophy?" Perhaps we could have a general philosophy Czar who would travel around reverting everything that didn't square with their POV? :) Sunray 10:47, 2005 Jan 24 (UTC)
I would like to see the changes from the current version highlighted in some manner so that what you propose is easier to comprehend. —Morven 20:30, Jan 23, 2005 (UTC)

Oops, I arranged for that and forgot to tell anyone. I pasted the current article onto the proposed revision page when I created it, and then revised it to the proposal. The changes can be seen on this [1] diff. As I note, it is the basic philosophy that I think is most important. The remaining changes are a corollary of that, jguk 20:38, 23 Jan 2005 (UTC)

I disagree with this proposal. Also, because the proposal would be a major change, I will give it the publicity it deserves. Maurreen 01:09, 24 Jan 2005 (UTC)
There might be a few minor changes I would support, such as changing 'mi/h' to the more familiar 'mph'. But otherwise I would point out:
  1. The correct abbreviation is 'e.g.' not 'eg'.
  2. '4–7' is equivalent to '4 through 7', but neither is equivalent to '4 to 7'. (It would however be equivalent to '4 to 7, inclusive', but why bother with the extra word?)
  3. I'm thinking anyone who bothers changing all the date references from [[February 12]], [[1809]] to [[12 February]] [[1809]] has too much time on his hands. —Mike 02:24, Jan 24, 2005 (UTC)
In reponse to your comments:
1. I think either is reasonable, but this is something that can easily be tweaked anyway.
2. I hadn't realised there was a difference. We don't use "through" in the UK, so it seems I got it wrong. Maybe "4 through to 7" would be better.
3. The revision says that all date references in an article should be consistent. That is, use either [[February 12]], [[1809]] or [[12 February]] [[1809]], but not both. The reason for this is to give consistency to users (eg unregistered users) who haven't expressed a date preference. If that's the policy, the page, which was very inconsistent beforehand, should reflect it.
I'm unable to address Maurreen's concerns as she does not say what they are, but, as noted above, in practice very few pages complying with current policy would be affected, jguk 08:02, 24 Jan 2005 (UTC)
I disagree with this proposed revision. Is it not merely a thinly-disguised way of banning the use of BCE/CE? Many Wikipedians use different ways of dating depending on the context. I have used BCE/CE for non-Christian topics relating to non-Christian regions. Such use is considered acceptable in both the Oxford Style Manual and the Chicago Manual of Style. The current Wikipedia:Manual of Style likewise permits both BC/AD and BCE/CE. It is the writer's call. The only stipulation is that there should be consistency in dating/numbering scheme within a particular article. There are many reasons for using BCE/CE (see the article on Common Era). One that is undoubtedly of interest to many Wikipedia editors is showing common courtesy to people of diverse cultures and religions. Sunray 10:47, 2005 Jan 24 (UTC)
I also disagree with most proposed changes:
  1. I agree with your sentiment about date format inconsistencies, but date formats should really be a user preference. If you ask me, dates should be written in source inside a single set of double brackets, e.g. [[21 February 2004]] and the software should then correctly format and link the dates and years. Maybe you should make a feature request for that.
  2. The BC and AD notation (and its local equivalents is obsolete even in many traditionally christian countries. I see no reason to give it precedence over the neutral BCE/CE notation. I can live with date articles living at the BC/AD titles, but it should be possible to use and link 300 BCE. Again, this could be a user preference.
  3. Using mph instead of mi/h sounds reasonable. The whole imperial measurement system is wacky and there's no good reason to try to bring it in line with our SI standards.
  4. I don't see why we would abandon the advice on billions. They can cause serious misunderstanding. Zocky 11:29, 24 Jan 2005 (UTC)
I think I have to along with the majority here, and disagree with the proposed changes, especially with regard to the BCE/CE question. (Incidentally, while 12.00a.m. and 12.00p.m. can confuse some people, I don't see any ambiguity. Is there a difference in usage between, say, the U.S. and the U.K.?) Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 11:57, 24 Jan 2005 (UTC)
The ambiguity is not one of inconsistent usage but rather one of theory vs practice. A.M. and P.M. mean in Latin "after midnight" and "after noon"; 12 hours "after midnight" is surely noon, and yet 12:00 a.m. is reckoned as midnight. I trace the problem to flip-type digital clocks which for mechanical expediency put each 12:00 in the same half-day as the following 59 minutes; this usage of 12:00 a.m. for midnight (and correspondingly, belonging to the day it commences) seems pretty universal now, at least over here in North America. --Sharkford 16:01, 2005 Jan 25 (UTC)
Enough of the folk etymology. A.M. stands for ante meridiem which means "before noon", not for "after midnight". Some used to recommend 12:00 M, but the problem there is this: does "M" stand for "meridiem" or for "midnight"? Gene Nygaard 16:33, 25 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Well yes, that's pretty much what I meant; there's some confusion, and many people (like Sharkford, and – if I'm honest – myself on occasion, when I'm in a hurry or not thinking) use them wrongly — but there's no ambiguity. The term "a.m." refers to the period between midnight and midday, so "12.00a.m." is midnight, "12.00p.m." is midday. (Mind you, one has to be careful not to rely too heavily on etymology, folk or otherwise — after all, "noon"'s Latin origin is the term for 3.00p.m., the ninth hour from sunrise.) Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 19:37, 25 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Urk. I can't believe I didn't double check that before I posted. Many thanks to the several of you that didn't let that stand. --Sharkford 19:51, 2005 Jan 25 (UTC)
Thumbs down. It is pretty bad when someone who proposes changes to this section of the manual doesn't have enough sense not to alienate people by messing with things not covered in the dates and numbers section, e.g. "eg".
My second reason is that while wholesale overhauls like this may be appropriate in a general article, when it comes to changing the Manual of Style it makes no sense to deal with a hodgepodge of unrelated items. One set of related items at a time--and you can usually discuss that here without showing how the whole dates and numbers section would look if rewritten. Gene Nygaard 13:20, 24 Jan 2005 (UTC)

I'm confused. What is wrong with the principle that date and numbers should be used in a way that they are easily understandable to as many people as possible? (Also, this is not a wholesale overhaul. Fewer than 1,000 articles (probably fewer than 500 articles) out of the 450,000 articles currently in the English Wikipedia would be out of kilter with the proposed revision.) jguk 21:19, 25 Jan 2005 (UTC)

I strongly, strongly opposed ALL of the preposed revisions (no offense meant to jguk, of course). Neutralitytalk 06:15, Jan 30, 2005 (UTC)

Zocky said dates should be written in source inside a single set of double brackets, e.g. [[21 February 2004]] and the software should then correctly format and link the dates and years.. I agree with that. I don't like the splitting of dates into two parts for the autoformatting to work. It seems like a software workaround to me. This splitting of dates into two links and then having relationship between the two links is not wysiwyg. It was only when I spent a long time removing multiple links to the same year, that somebody told me that this was a feature.
Look at List of asteroids (61001-62000). It has 1000 links to the article 2000 because it includes
[[May 28]], [[2000]]
[[May 27]], [[2000]]
[[May 26]], [[2000]]
[[May 25]], [[2000]]
That is why it is mentioned in Wikipedia:Offline reports/This page links many times to the same article. I will support any requests for an improvement to date handling. Linking and date autoformatting are two different things and they should look different. Making it look like one link would be bad enough, making it look like two separate links is worse.
I also support the suggestion that dates should only be linked if relevant. And they should only be linked once, not every time. Bobblewik  (talk) 20:46, 30 Jan 2005 (UTC)
That makes sense to me. Maurreen 11:28, 31 Jan 2005 (UTC)

I oppose the proposed revision as stated, and in particular its attempt to make the use of CE / BCE dates disallowed or disfavored. I agree with several other people who have expressed the view that this format has significant value. Indded it seems clsoer to the standard of a neutral POV than does the general use of AD/BC, much less the mandated use of that system. The "general principle" seems reasonable, if not vital, to me, but if this kind of thing is its proper consequence, then I oppose it.

By the way, i belive that "4-7" can mean either "Four through seven" (i. e. the numbers 4, 5, 6, and 7) or "four to seven" (i.e. a range in a numbered list of pages, items, paragraphs or the like) depending on the context. DES 19:42, 10 Feb 2005 (UTC)

BCE in Y/M/D format

How is BCE used in representing a date in year-month-day style? I have been working on several articles which employ BCE dates and want to employ a stylistically correct form before proceeding furhter. Denni 01:59, 2005 Jan 24 (UTC)

I don't know if there is a way to do BCE, however if you were to enter [[-0425]]-[[02-12]], this is the equivalent of "February 12, 424 BC". —Mike 02:34, Jan 24, 2005 (UTC)
This is what I have been doing up until now. However, the negative codes still come up redlinked. The Wiki software does not seem to recognize them as BC or BCE dates. (See, among similar, 50 (number)#In science) Denni 02:46, 2005 Jan 24 (UTC)
You're using an odd unrecognised format. Try [[-0425-02-12]], it becomes -0425-02-12. -- Tim Starling 03:04, Jan 24, 2005 (UTC)
Try these--isn't something horribly wrong? (View with preferences other than YYYYMMDD)
[[-0002-02-12]] -0002-02-12 should be 3 B.C., not 1 B.C.
[[-0001-02-12]] -0001-02-12 should be 2 B.C., not 0 B.C. which is never used
[[-0000-02-12]] and [[0000-02-12]] -0000-02-12 and 0000-02-12 both should be 1 B.C., not -1 B.C. and not 0 unless using this YMD format
[[0001-02-12]] 0001-02-12 correct as 1 (A.D.) -- Gene Nygaard 04:42, 24 Jan 2005 (UTC) modified Gene Nygaard 03:43, 10 Feb 2005 (UTC)
I mentioned this software bug above (#ISO 8601), but only got one response. Tim Starling's example of [[-0425-02-12]] resulted in February 12, 424 BC in the M-D-Y format, which is wrong. It should be February 17, 426 BC if the date were written in the ISO 8601 (2000) format and the date converted to the Wikipedia style of a Julian calendar date (because it is before October 15, 1582) using a BC year. ISO 8601 (2000) requires that all dates before 1582 be given in the proleptic Gregorian calendar and that a year 0000 be used. Thus 02-12 should be assumed to be in the Gregorian calendar, so that when it is displayed in the Julian calendar, the day of the month shifts by five days (in this case). Furthermore, because ISO 8601 (2000) requires a zero year, the digits in the year should increase by one, not decrease by one.
As pointed out by the lone respondent to my earlier post, this produces great problems for the general Wikipedia community, considering that the software engineer who programmed Wikipedia didn't even get it right. There are three possible solutions: (1) correct the software to follow the full ISO 8601 (2000) rules, (2) follow a modified set of ISO rules that assume that the 'ISO' date is given in the Julian calendar without a year zero (if before October 15, 1582), or (3) forbid the use of the ISO 8601 (2000) format before October 15, 1582.
The solution which would prevent most problems for those who are oblivious to converting calendar dates would be option (2). For this option, a minus sign before the year would simply be replaced by BC without any change in the digits of the year. An attempt to use a zero year could be converted to 1 BC, so both 0000 and -0001 would be interpreted as 1 BC. Using a minus sign for a BC year has been used by some chronologists and historians, but has also been decried by those who know that a minus sign means astronomical year numbering and hence wrong if the year is not shifted by one. — Joe Kress 07:15, Jan 24, 2005 (UTC)
This isn't ISO 8601 usage in any case. This is far outside the scope of the usage covered by ISO 8601. So there's no reason why this format cannot be used with Julian calendar dates. The software just needs to be fixed to subtract one from the absolute value of the year, not from the B.C. year with a negative sign stuck in front of it. Gene Nygaard 08:25, 24 Jan 2005 (UTC)

Christian Era vs. Common Era

I noticed that Japanese calendar refered to CE specifically as the Christian Era and not the Common Era. I would prefer the latter as it seems less POV (does not label a 2000 year period as belonging to a single religion) but checked the manual for what wikipedia says on the issue. While the manual does address BC/BCE and AD/CE, it does not address Christian Era vs Common Era. What is the concensus here? Asteron ノレツァ 00:47, Jan 25, 2005 (UTC)

My own preference is for "Christian Era", because it's more accurate. The dating system involved isn't common, as many countries and cultures use their own systems; it is, however, directly related to the Christian system of dating, and is as widespread as it is because of the dominance of Christian-based cultures. Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 09:28, 25 Jan 2005 (UTC)

Christian Era is the more common terminology. The reason it is also the "Common Era" is because (in the area and time in which the term was coined) almost everyone was Christian - so the Christian Era was Common to all. Of course, nowadays many, such as Mel Etitis above, question why such an obviously Christian terminology is still used, jguk 21:23, 25 Jan 2005 (UTC)
I think that you probably meant to refer to the area and time in which A.D. and B.C. were coined (though in fact they were coined at different times, and more recently than is often realised — but that's not the point), as Common Era is surely a recent coinage. As an atheist I don't in fact care whether the dating system is referred to by religion-specific terms (any more than I refuse to use the terms Tuesday, Wednesday, January, etc.). Out of politeness to those who do care, I use C.E. and B.C.E. though; I expand it to Christian rather than to Common Era because, as I said, I think that it's more accurate. Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 22:37, 25 Jan 2005 (UTC)

No, "Common Era" was coined by Christians. Of course Tuesday (Tiu's day), Wednesday (Woden's day), January (named after Januus) all have religious derivations. Acknowledging that many do not understand academic speak, and that only one term is used in UK English, I prefer BC and AD. If I used anything else here in London, most people just wouldn't understand what the heck I was going on about! I fear that in your attempts to be courteous to a few, you are inadventently becoming discourteous to the many who will be confused by your style, jguk 22:53, 25 Jan 2005 (UTC)

I'm unsurprised that Common Era was coined by Christians, but my comment was that it was recent (and thus not, I think, coined at a time when almost everyone was Christian); that's a trivial point though.
On the question of C.E./B.C.E. being "academic speak", I'd agree that it's a usage more commonly found in books (but then I rarely use it in conversation, and certainly not non-academic conversation...), but certainly not restricted to academic books. A very quick look through recent popular books that I have lying around (so not a scientific test, I grant you) indicated that it was slightly more common than the traditional alternative, and a quick Google suggests that it's widely used outside acadaemia. Besides, I think that anyone who read, for example, that Descartes was born in 1596C.E., or that the Battle of Hastings is widely thought to have taken place in 1066C.E. would have to be pretty dim to be misled (especially if they can look up C.E. in the same encyclopaedia). Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 09:25, 26 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Descartes' birth doesn't need CE or AD - it's assumed. The issue really only arises for events before 0 AD/CE. And putting 999 BCE may be confusing for people not familiar with it, whereas most people know BC. And since the entire calendar is based on Christian history, does it really matter whether abbreviations (rarely if ever expanded) use Christian terminology or an unfamiliar vaguely neutered version of it? Unless we adopt a new calendar, 999 BCE is barely any less Christian than 999 BC, whatever BCE stands for. Rd232 11:15, 26 Jan 2005 (UTC)
I'm not sure how the newer terminology is a neutered (however vaguely) version of the old (especially as in general you seem to be saying that there's no real difference in their Christian nature). Nor is it unfamiliar to me, nor to a great many other people. Perhaps that's a matter of geographical/cultural context, but I'm an academic in the U.K., and as I type I'm looking at a popular, non-academic book published by Barron's in the U.S., and we both use B.C.E. rather than B.C.. Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 20:25, 26 Jan 2005 (UTC)

Suggestion: Template for geographic coordinates

I notice that latitude and longitude coordinates are given for various locations. Useful as they may be, they are not in a common style. Isn't it time to define this? Not only for style, but using a template it should be possible to do the same neat trick as for ISBN numbers. I.e. clicking on the ref would bring you directly to a navigatable map, or better, a page with external pointers to various map resources, with coordinates automatically embedded where possible. We should also specifiy which geodetic system, presumably WGS84 is the must suitable standard.

Taking Lima as an example, it is located at:

12°02’36” S 77°01’42” W

The Mapquest request for this coordinate for this is:

There is challenge in making a template by ordinary means due to the handling of S/N E/W versus negative degrees. This can be done in a convenient manner simply by having four variant templates, one for each quadrant. So to specify the location of Lima, one can do:


Which expands to:

12°02′36″S 77°01′42″W / 12.04333°S 77.02833°W / -12.04333; -77.02833

The seventh argument is for a possible separator between latitude and longitude, where sometimes for instance a <br> may be needed.

The crux is in the common template Template:Coordinate dms, where of course the functionality can be developed further.

Replacing dms with dm or d gives similar functionality for references for larger areas, where degree/minute, or even just degrees suffice. The default zoom factor for the map is tuned correspondingly.

See Template talk:Coor dms for a summary.

Note that the link should ideally be to a new page (like e.g. for ISBN 0471093033) providing external links to a number of different map resources for the same location. Presumably this requires some Wikimedia Special: magic, where a critical mass of usage is perhaps required to get it done.

See also: Geographic coordinate conversion, Geographic coordinate system

-- Egil 05:15, 10 Feb 2005 (UTC)

This may not be exactly what you are intending, but have you seen Template:Mapit-US-cityscale? It takes coordinates in decimal degrees and produces external links that can use those coordinates. For example, {{Mapit-US-cityscale|42.3316|-83.0475}}, which are coordinates for Detroit, produces this:


-olderwiser 13:38, Feb 10, 2005 (UTC)
Thanks. This one generates an inline set of references. This is along the lines I was thinking, but my hope was to have it on a separate page, as mentioned, so that the coordinates could appear inline with no clutter. -- Egil 13:55, 10 Feb 2005 (UTC)

I've noticed one caveat: Templates cannot be used as arguments to other templates. This is a problem when infobox templates contain geographical coordiantes, and is reported as a bug. -- Egil 06:08, 11 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Why use a template for this function? ISBN references are detected by the MediaWiki software automatically. Why not put in a software enhancement request to do similar detection for coordinates? -- Netoholic @ 15:08, 2005 Feb 11 (UTC)
Reason 1: ISBN references are much easier to detect, syntax-wise. Having recently had some experience in tracking down coordinates, it seems like there is no end to the variations of how these are written.
Reason 2: The template ensures a uniform presentation of these refs, as is needed, see Reason 1.
Reason 3: Implementing MediaWiki detection requires an updated version of MediaWiki. That is definitely a big deal. Adding a template demonstrating the concept is not.
Reason 4: Using a template (with what-links-here) makes it feasible to do the reverse: Automagically create a navigatable map with a clickable icon appearing for every location for which there is a Wikipedia article. Making it feasible often is one good step into making it happen.
-- Egil 16:40, 11 Feb 2005 (UTC); addendum Egil 12:52, 12 Feb 2005 (UTC)
One difficulty in implementing that, it appears to me, would be the fact that the types of mapping alternatives available are dependent on political boundaries as well as the coordinates (a problem for the templates as well, but perhaps more managable if the editors somehow determine those polital boundaries in choosing appropriate templates). I disagree about the "separate page" idea as well, and would rather see External links generated on the article's page. Gene Nygaard 16:20, 11 Feb 2005 (UTC)
The idea of linking the location to a special page is a solution to that: The user can then select between a number of different resources. Not only maps, but topological info, satelite photos etc. Using the ISBN as model, notice how the ISBN special page offers you links to many booksellers and libraries. Not all of them are relevant for any given book, but you are given enough info to select a good one.
One other note: To be able to handle the specifics of how the various resources want their URLs to appear, the thing generating the list of maps definitely needs to be written in Perl or Python or something.
-- Egil 16:40, 11 Feb 2005 (UTC)
I just confused myself into thinking of generating a new page specific to each reference, rather than a general one, with coordinate information somehow incorporated into the links on that page. Each resource should indicate the area for which it is available. Gene Nygaard 16:51, 11 Feb 2005 (UTC)
There is one good thing about the Geolinks templates as they stand now: they keep external links in the External Links section of an article, which is clean. Not that this is an requirement or policy, but it is consistent with much of the 'pedia. -- hike395 08:26, 12 Feb 2005 (UTC)
I see your point. My thoughts about this are: A. The implementation as it is now will display the map link as a [1], which I believe is an acceptable form for an external link/reference. B. The ultimate goal would be that the entire georef is a Wikilink to an internal Wikipedia special page that would give a list of available external references. I am guessing that once such a mechanism is operational, the "many eyeballs" would make us discover that there are a good many valuable types of different resources. C. Making the georef a link proper, instead of having it at the end of the page, increases the "immediateness" of the feature. -- Egil 13:37, 12 Feb 2005 (UTC)

I have made a Wikipedia:WikiProject Geographical coordinates for this feature. -- Egil 10:22, 13 Feb 2005 (UTC)

I have now also implemented a proof-of-concept of the map page, running on and off-site server (until permissions is granted to include this in-house). Ig you know about other map resources, please update Wikipedia:Map sources. The format is explained in the project page. -- Egil 15:42, 13 Feb 2005 (UTC)

You could have made better choices for your examples on the article page. For example, the padding with zeros is not a feature of your template; it is a matter of input just taken as whatever text is put in. You should also give an example using decimal fractions. Different considerations also apply to the example on the other article linked to from these coordinates.
I'm not convinced that entering a quarter-sphere is preferable to listing north/south and east/west separately, something that really hasn't been discussed. There may well turn out to be good reasons for it, but so far, it is just Egil's bright idea and it is contrary to what we are accustomed to doing.
Obviously, there are some other issues as well, which probably should now be discussed on the project talk page. So I will mention a couple here, then go into it more on Wikipedia:WikiProject Geographical coordinates:
  • One of your stated goals is more uniformity in the representation—but we need to decide what that uniform representation should be. For example, should there be any spaces at all within the numbers? Both ways are used--and likely also that thin space discussed in other sections of this talk page. NIST, in explaining that this is an exception to the rule that there is a space between a number and its symbol, closes up all the spaces its example "α = 32°22′8″"
    • This rule has the advantage of being nonbreaking on the primes—though as I have seen to my consternation with temperatures, the degree sign is not nonbreaking in Wikipedia, splitting between the degree sign and the symbol for the temperature scale. If you do use spaces, it should be nonbreaking spaces between the degrees and minutes and between minutes and seconds.
Gene Nygaard 11:49, 14 Feb 2005 (UTC)

I am continuing this discussion on the project talk page. -- Egil 12:56, 14 Feb 2005 (UTC)