Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style (dates and numbers)/Archive 19

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New proposal concerning BC/AD and BCE/CE

I want Wikipedia to accept a general policy that BC and AD represent a Christian Point of View and should be used only when they are appropriate, that is, in the context of expressing or providing an account of a Christian point of view. In other contexts, I argue that they violate our NPOV policy and we should use BCE and CE instead. See Wikipedia:Neutral point of view/BCE-CE Debate for the detailed proposal. Slrubenstein | Talk 22:33, 15 May 2005 (UTC)

This has nothing whatsoever to do with Wikipedia:neutral point of view policy. All it is is political correctness and Slrubenstein's belief that his notion of what should be considered "culturally neutral language" is the word of God. Gene Nygaard 03:29, 16 May 2005 (UTC)
I think you're right, jguk 07:14, 16 May 2005 (UTC)

The current Manual of Style is a compromise between people who believe BC and AD prop up a Christian POV and people who believe that BCE and CE are politically correct nonsense that should not be tolerated. You're not going to get general agreement with either extreme of this continuum. However, there may be room for you to suggest a better compromise. Gdr 08:23, 2005 May 16 (UTC)

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. BC and AD are easily understood. So are BCE and CE. BCE and CE are more scholarly, but in Wikipedia there is considerable variation from article to article in the "level" of writing.

Whatever problem AD, has, BCE and CE seem to me to have the same problem. I mean, the C stands for something, and don't bother to tell me that it stands for "common," because... well... even if it did, it's not the "common" epoch except in parts of the world whose cultural tradition is, uh, Christian.

We live with Greenwich Mean Time, the Gregorian calendar, terms such as "Western civilization," and a host of terms that carry cultural baggage if you think about their origin and history, but which are now are just names that no longer carry any particular cultural baggage with them.

How many people who understand the term "AD" can actually tell you that it stands for "Anno Domini" or that "Anno Domini" means "year of our Lord?" I'll bet it's less than 25%.

It just doesn't matter. Like US/British usage, usage should be consistent within one article, and should not be changed once the article has reached a respectable state of completion. There's no need to run around changing them wholesale. Dpbsmith (talk) 16:01, 16 May 2005 (UTC)

Incidentally, BCE/CE are not easily understood by many. For example, the notation only began to be taught in English schools in 2002. So there's no particular reason to assume that any Englishmen who has not been taught history at school since 2002 would know what the terms mean. Similar situations apply to many places around the world. Kind regards, jguk 18:25, 16 May 2005 (UTC)

See a newer discussion of this on a subpage here, Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style (dates and numbers)/Eras.

birth/death dates and dashes and hyphens

Wikipedia:Manual of Style (dashes) says that en dashes indicate duration, and hyphens are for hyphen purposes. It says nothing about hyphens being acceptable in b/d dates - but it does say that en dashes should be used for those. This manual, however, says that hyphens or en dashes are acceptable. The purpose of a manual of style is to encourage consistency, and en dashes are more generally accepted for the purpose - so shouldn't this manual specify en dashes only (and not hyphens) in b/d dates? Neonumbers 09:56, 21 May 2005 (UTC)

There isn't consensus for this; last time this was tried there was opposition from editors who preferred to use hyphens. So the current text is a compromise. Of course, you're welcome to try again... Gdr 14:12, 2005 May 24 (UTC)
We should definitely be saying "use en dashes" (and the inconsistency here shouldn't be tolerated), but luckily we won't need to worry about this when we upgrade to MediaWiki 1.5 (soon), because hyphens in the appropriate contexts will be converted to en dashes by the software. — Trilobite (Talk) 05:37, 26 May 2005 (UTC)

Thanks for the responses, we'll just leave it to MediaWiki 1.5 then. Neonumbers 09:47, 26 May 2005 (UTC)

units of volume: billion m³ versus km³

Comments are invited on the following issue. It was raised on User_talk:Bobblewik#units_of_volume page. Feel free to read that page for context. The discussion has been moved here to get opinions from a wide range of people with an interest. (If you can improve the format of how I have quoted it, that would be welcome too). Bobblewik  (talk) 13:47, 26 May 2005 (UTC)

Please DO NOT change billion m3 to km3 in any hydrocarbon related article. Billion m3 is industry convention and common practice. I have reverted your edit at List of natural gas fields for this reason. Please respect common practice and the intelligence of other users. --Csnewton 21:01, 25 May 2005 (UTC)
I noticed you did this to several oil industry or petroleum related articles. This is a nuissance!--Csnewton 21:12, 25 May 2005 (UTC)
You've got the most interesting talk page, Bobblewik. I'll jump in here to say that I consider "billion m³" totally unacceptable. Billion is ambiguous, no matter what some industry thinks. So some form of qualification or alternative unit is definitely in order. Rl 07:18, 26 May 2005 (UTC)
I see that I this was mentioned on this talk page by user Wtshymanski. I don't want to be a nuisance, I had thought that the edits that I made improved the article. I had no idea that using a large unit for large quantities would be unwanted. I am interested in what you say and would welcome the opinion of others. Can you take this to a generic discussion page so that we get multiple views? I would appreciate that. Thanks. Bobblewik  (talk) 09:32, 26 May 2005 (UTC)
I can't deny that billion m³ is a strange unit to use, but people are used to reading it and hearing it. Most people monitor their gas usage in m³, so it will be easier for most people to understand a billion familiar units over km³ even though they are the same units. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, it should be accessable to the widest audience possible. The widest audience will be familiar with m³ and billion m³. I am not sure which general discussion page this should appear, feel free to CC this discussion to the appropriate page, perhaps leaving a note here for other users. --Csnewton 13:22, 26 May 2005 (UTC)
I agree people tend to be more familiar with m³ than km³. It is at least debatable whether km³ or 1,000,000,000 m³ are easier to understand — my answer is that for comparisons (to your own usage, say) 1,000,000,000 m³ are easier, while km³ are easier for visualizing the volume. I'd call that a tie. There is no question, however, that some people read one billion as 10^9 and some read it as 10^12. If you try to be "accessable to the widest audience possible", as you say, you simply cannot use billion in a text without at least qualifying which reading of billion you are referring to. Fixing that is anything but a nuisance, it is essential to making the WP accessible for people with different backgrounds. Bottom line: I am not saying we must use km³, but we do have to solve the "billion" ambiguity. Rl 14:35, 26 May 2005 (UTC)
Over at the billion page, it suggests that any reference to billion in wikipedia means 10^9 (it is solved for english speakers according to wiki standards). I do not want to walk into the billion argument because many people before me have argued it already. If one really wants to bring unity to the measurements one might convert the volumes into the SI units for energy, then we could compare all sorts of things and not worry about the environment parameters for volume of gas measurements! --Csnewton 17:30, 26 May 2005 (UTC)

Well, a linked "billion m³" would certainly be an improvement over "billion m³". However, billion is highly misleading for most non-native English speakers — so misleading in fact that I'm afraid a simple link like the one above will be ignored by many. It is fairly common even for journalists of reputable newspapers to fall into that trap (and I have written the letters to the editor to prove that). For a good reason, the Manual of Style (dates and numbers) states "In different English dialects, billion may be 109, as in the U.S., or 1012, as is traditional in Britain. Try to avoid these names altogether and instead use scientific notation, or at the very least explain your usage at its first occurrence in an article.". So if there is a consensus on the use of billion, it is to get rid of it. Rl 18:01, 26 May 2005 (UTC)

There are so many places to look to find wikipedia standards. Though I prefer billion, I will concede to put 109m³. --Csnewton 23:19, 26 May 2005 (UTC)

When writing geology articles I always use 'thousand million' instead of billion. So if something happened 1.2 billion years ago I'd write that it occurred 1200 million years ago. This is very common in geology since it keeps things consistant and easy to follow when in the next paragraph you describe something that happened 800 million years ago. Although that would sound odd when giving a dollar figure in a U.S. related article (20,000 million dollars anybody?). In those cases I would write something like 20 billion dollars (20×109). mav 22:54, 2 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Spaces as number separators

Is there any inherent advantage to using spaces as number separators rather than commas? For example 3 000 000 rather than 3,000,000. My objection to using spaces in this way is that they don't read well with speech synthesizers, but I thought I would ask here first before making any of these changes to wikipedia articles. Graham 04:50, 27 May 2005 (UTC)

There is a precedent for it, though mostly in scientific texts.
International standard ISO 31-0 permits only thin spaces to group digits in numbers, in order to leave both the dot and the comma as possible decimal separators. This is of particular importance in situations where a number might be read in an English (decimal separator: dot) and non-English (decimal separator: comma) context, e.g. on a piece of equipment that is sold all over the world. Markus Kuhn 22:10, 13 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed., 9.60: space between digits. In the International System of Units, half-spaces rather than commas are used to mark off groups of three digits, both to the left and right of the decimal point. In numbers of only four digits either to the left or right of the decimal point, no space is used (except in table columns with numbers having five or more digits). —Wayward 02:57, May 28, 2005 (UTC)

I would like to voice my concern about the use of spaces as number separators. I think this usage can improve clarity in a table of numbers, but when numbers are not in tables, the number ends up looking disconnected or confusing.

Perhaps more importantly, blanks within a number allow the number to be split across lines for word-wrapping, which does not happen when using commas (at least using Firefox 1.0.4 -- perhaps someone who knows more about CSS/HTML could comment on this). I'd prefer that the number be kept together as a unit.

-Rholton 16:49, Jun 2, 2005 (UTC)
In this context, "thin spaces" ( ) should be used, which are by nature non-break spaces. You can create a non-break "word space" with   —Wayward 22:21, Jun 2, 2005 (UTC)
A problem is that the Unicode THIN SPACE character (U+2009 =   =   = " ") is not yet very well supported by browsers and fonts. In practice,   (" ") and   (" ") are the same glyph today, unfortunately. THIN SPACE is not a member of WGL4, therefore most fonts lack it and common browsers use NO-BREAK SPACE as a workaround. It is only easily accessable in TeX via the "\," command. Even if THIN SPACE worked on the display side, it is still rather clumsy to enter for all the people who are not used to extending their personal keyboard mappings with typographic special characters. In that respect, THIN SPACE is in the same league as the curly quotation marks and the en dash. The only practical solution would be to have a number formatter in the Wikimedia software that turns a convenient shortcut such as {6.012345678e22} into something nicely formatted like 6.012 345 678 × 1022. Markus Kuhn 17:47, 14 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Typographically using THIN SPACE is not good, because there's nothing in Unicode saying that it should be non-breaking. The use of a non-breaking space prevents the number from breaking up during "word wrap". Much better would be to use the U+202F — NARROW NO-BREAK SPACE character. This page covers the issue pretty well: Digit Grouping SeparatorDelicates 17:23, 15 Jun 2005 (UTC)

My guess is that if you started using spaces as number separators you would find other editors come in later and add commas. Also, I don't think the Chicago Manual of Style is a good guide to use for WP as WP is an international encyclopaedia, whereas Chicago is peculiarly American. Kind regards, jguk 22:32, 2 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Actually, quite uncharacteristic for an American house style, the authors of the Chicago Manual of Style do show a fair amount of familiarity and sympathy for international standards (ISO 31, ISO 1000, ISO 2145, ISO 8601). Markus Kuhn 17:47, 14 Jun 2005 (UTC)
What do the British style manuals recommend? I have The Oxford Guide to English Usage, but it is severely lacking in details such as discussed here. I have ordered Copy-Editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Authors and Publishers (ISBN 0521400740), which I'm told is the most comprehensive British style manual. —Wayward 23:11, Jun 2, 2005 (UTC)
Just to clarify, a half-space between digits is the international standard for SI units (see Scientific Format and Style: The CBE Manual for Authors, Editors and Publishers, Cambridge University Press). In my original reply I wasn't suggesting that half-spaces should be used as a matter of course—I, too, prefer commas—but if one should desire to use spaces between digits, they should be half-spaces. —Wayward 08:39, Jun 3, 2005 (UTC)
Yes, this is the standard international notation for dividing numbers in groups of three in order to facilitate reading in scientific documents, due to the fact that while in English a dot is used to separate the integral part of numbers from the decimal part, a comma is used in many other languages. The BIPM (which also included this rule in SI) has declared in 1948 and re-confirmed in 2003 that "Numbers may be divided in groups of three in order to facilitate reading; neither dots nor commas are ever inserted in the spaces between groups". — Delicates 17:23, 15 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Commas with Dates

The style article doesn't specify how commas are to be used with dates. American usage places commas before and after the year, e.g., the May 2 2004, proposal called for sweeping changes. Is there a Wikipedia consensus on this?

Also, I couldn't find anything on commas with place-names. Again, in American usage commas set off individual elements in place-names, e.g., Washington, D.C., is the capital of the United States. However, closing commas are not used with two-digit postal code abbreviations, e.g., Los Angeles, CA is home to the U.S. movie industry. —Wayward 02:44, May 28, 2005 (UTC)

As with words and phrases, so punctuation styles change throughout the world. Modern-day N American punctuation is pretty much what everyone used in the nineteenth century. Since then the rest of the world has tended towards using ever less punctuation, whilst N America has also changed. (Also, the rest of the world has gone universally to putting punctuation outside quotation marks unless the punctuation relates to what is in punctuation marks - N America is on its lonesome in always placing punctuation inside quotation marks.)
To give an example, this is how I (an Englishman) would probably have punctuated Wayward's last paragraph above (there is quite a bit of difference):
Also I couldn't find anything on commas with place-names. Again in American usage commas set off individual elements in place-names, eg 'Washington, D.C., is the capital of the United States'. However, closing commas are not used with two-digit postal code abbreviations, eg 'Los Angeles, CA' is home to the US movie industry.
As someone who is not N American, I prefer 'Los Angeles, CA is home to the US movie industry' (although in practice I'd drop the 'CA') and 'Washington DC is the capital of the United States' (with perhaps a comma between 'Washington' and 'DC' depending on my mood. Kind regards, jguk 06:18, 28 May 2005 (UTC)
What do the BrE style guides recommend? I have ordered the Oxford Guide to English Usage, which should arrive as early as today. —Wayward 08:47, May 28, 2005 (UTC)
I haven't received my BrE style guide yet (it's a long holiday weekend), but I got this response from a BrE grammarian.
I don't know of any [BrE] style-guide that would not recommend the second comma in those examples. What we are dealing with is, after all, a pair of parenthetical commas. The second comma ought not to be omitted any more than a closing parenthesis. . . In recent years I have noticed that the second comma is, in fact, often omitted, albeit inconsistently, in newspaper-level writing. (I'm thinking particularly of The Irish Times, but the observation is by no means limited to that estimable organ of public information.) The omission is irritating and incorrect. . . —Wayward 22:18, May 30, 2005 (UTC)
Strunk & White, in The Elements of Style, long prefered the form "2 May 2004" (not linked so the form is unaffected by preference settings) and putting punctuation not part of quoted matter outside the quotes. This is a much used and undeniably North American source, although not generally considered definative on these points. DES 13:48, 28 May 2005 (UTC)

I've just noticed this discussion, but DES has surely mentioned the key point with regard to dates (unless I've missed something); take the following examples:

Does anyone see those differently (apart from in the edit screen)?

That is important to note. This discussion is meaningless without considering the software inplementation.
I thought they'd be different for people without preferences set, or those who chose "no preference", but that doesn't seem to be the case now.
Of course, they are different if the year is not linked, something I run across every now and then. The month and day will still be ordered according to preferences if not YYYY-MM-DD
That's not so surprising, but here's something most people haven't noticed. Another thing that screws up the way those commas work in preferences is things like "XXXX in aviation" and "XXXX in sports": do you see the difference, other than on the edit screen, here:
Currently, they is no way to have both a link to a year in aviation and a date-preference linking.
Gene Nygaard 12:30, 31 May 2005 (UTC)
I do see a difference in the two dates above, but if you are going to have <date> <Year in field>, why wiki-link the day and month at all? Since the link doesn't work for date preferences, and since it is unlikely that anyone wants to follow a link to a day and month without a year, this link is pointless, and IMO such links should be discouraged by the MoS. I tend to remove such links when I find them in an article I am editing. Similarly there are lots of cases where the text says something like "X happend in 1955" and the year is wiki-linked. In general such links (to the year alone, without a full date) serve no useful purpose IMO, and I tend to remove them when editing. I think the MoS should more strongly discourage such pointless links. DES 14:30, 31 May 2005 (UTC)
It does "work" (partially) for date preferences; it gets the right day-month or month-day order. It's just the existence or nonexistence of a comma which is screwed up.
IMHO, a date preference link is much more necessary and useful than "YYYY in some given field".
Linking a year not associated with a day and month doesn't screw up preferences. Those links are occassionally useful, but I agree that they are too often used.
There are probably more people are likely to follow a link to a day and month without a year, than there are who follow a link to a year without a day and month. They like to see what happened on their birthday, or some other day important to them.
What I'd like to see is a preferences linking totally separate from our normal linking, with at least an option for no color change and no underlining if it is just for preferences, with both types of links capable of being combined. Gene Nygaard 19:58, 31 May 2005 (UTC)

The link does work for date preferences, it just changes the sensitivity to commas. By removing the links, you're making the dates show up wrongly for many people. As for linking all the years, there have been many debates on this, and I've argued as you do, but we're in a minority. Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 18:35, 31 May 2005 (UTC)

(I'm very surprised, incidentally, that jguk wouldn't have placed a comma after "again" — that looks really peculiar to me.) Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 08:21, 31 May 2005 (UTC)

Me too, but then I'd also probably have placed a comma after the 'Also' to mimic the pause I'd place when speaking those words. I do find though I place more commas in my writing than many of my fellow Brits. Thryduulf 12:59, 31 May 2005 (UTC)
I admit I probably use slightly less punctuation than others - but only slightly. Certainly I would defend what I wrote as being "correct", but there are, of course, many "correct" ways of punctuating that paragraph. The overall point - that less punctuation is used outside N America than in N America - and that the trend outside N America is towards ever less punctuation - is demonstrably true, jguk 22:38, 2 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Dates are the most linked articles in Wikipedia. Yet I think they rank low in terms of added value to readers. Well said, DES. Unfortunately we have combined the 'link to article' and the 'enable date preference' functions. These two functions have different purposes so it should be possible to control the functions separately. Please take a look at the proposal called: 'Create date object method' independent of 'link method'? Bobblewik  (talk) 18:36, 31 May 2005 (UTC)