Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style (dates and numbers)/Archive 67

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Overhaul "Units of measurement" section

Someone reverted every change I made to the section, without any consideration of whether some of them wouldn't be controversial at all, so here we go; this is going to be very long...

This entire section needs a total overhaul. It is confusing. It fails to address a number of important, relevant style questions. In some places it defies logic., and in others it's just gibberish. Most importantly, in many places it defies actual practice, in a POV-laded, prescriptive manner, and I think we all know that WP guidelines exist to describe actual practice, not prescribe (or proscribe) it. I'll cover each of the signficant changes in its own subsection for individual discussion to avoid any further "throw out the whole family with the bathwater" stuff.  :-) NB: I have copyedited a few of them in the process of moving them here, hopefully for the better. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 17:19, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

I've commented on every section. My overall summary is that this is a definite improvement. If I find a fault, it's that some of it is a bit verbose, and I think there is a tendency to legislate against possible errors that are unlikely in practice. Maybe you've seen some things I haven't seen, but over time I am developing a belief that the Manual of Style should intervene only against common errors. Instruction creep is a bigger problem than failing to anticipate every possible error. There are also a couple of sections which I agree with but which I feel people have argued about recently so there may not be complete consensus. Stephen Turner (Talk) 12:04, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
I do fully confess that I can be verbose and prone to WP:CREEP (though I think I don't wander into WP:BEANS very often.) Anyway, thanks for the time to address all the twiddles. If anything is actually contentious, I'm sure someone will contend about them. If no one does after a while (not sure how to define that; a week?) then putting them in the MoS should be OK; if doing so triggers an argumentative response, then that might be evidence of contention and worth reverting the point in question for further discussion. I wouldn't take the fact of recent or even historical argumentation over an issue as evidentiary of all that much. Virtually everything presently in WP:N has been the subject of such contention, some of it bordering on the uncivil, and some of it lasting for years, yet there we are. Some editors simply like to argue, others like to argue with particular other editors regardless of the topic, and yet others feel strongly about something for a brief period and then realize it doesn't actually matter much to them after they have some WP:TEA. :-) — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 18:18, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
Thanks for your replies. It sounds like the two of us are very close to a consensus, at least! I'm surprised no-one else has commented yet. I'm still hoping they will. Stephen Turner (Talk) 10:54, 19 March 2007 (UTC)
That's generally evidentiary of a lack of opposition in my experience. Every now and then it reflects that people simply haven't noticed yet, but on a major guideline page with a topic this enormous, that's almost impossible. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 21:28, 19 March 2007 (UTC)
Um, don’t be too sure. That’s what the folks at WP:ATT thought, too.... Askari Mark (Talk) 02:40, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
Heh. Either that comment is remarkably coincidental or rather too arch (given that I'm one of the principal WP:ATT critics). The WP:ATT situation is radically different, in that the silence they received was by their conscious or incidental design, by failing to notify editors of the to-be-merged pages that a merge was being contemplated. Their much-ballyhooed "five months of work" happend in a locked cellar. Not the case here. I do however want to draw a parallel between the plaintive but insubstantial cries of "waaa, but we've done 5 months work on this" and the "revert because this has been around a long time" equally nonsubstantive "defenses" being given at WP:MOSNUM from time to time (often by people who in the same breath criticise a fix-it rationale as being based on sources that are allegedly too aged.) The nested ironies just boggle the mind. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 05:35, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
It just serves to show that Wikipedia is indeed part of the "real world", however much it sometimes seems not to be, since you just can't make this stuff up. (No, not arch, but tongue-in-cheek; I'd come upon it too late myself to feel I could sufficiently come up to speed to contribute anything useful.) Askari Mark (Talk) 17:04, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
I hear ya. I almost felt that way, but... (next item below) — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 05:25, 26 March 2007 (UTC)
Sorry I've been silent for several days; I haven't forgotten this stuff, and I owe someone a citation somewhere. I've just been to caught up in some issues over at WP:ATT. My involvement there seems to be winding down, so I'll be back here pretty soon, substantively. I'm told by all that MOS moves slowly, so I guess my tardiness won't bother any one.  :-) — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 05:25, 26 March 2007 (UTC)

Don't spell out digits

Second bullet point should be:

  • Use digits rather than spelled-out numbers (e.g. "25 kilograms", not "twenty-five kilograms").

See also immediately-above discussions. We may need to add text noting or even explaining that this is different from and not a contradiction of the upcoming recommendation to spell numbers out in cases like "number-one" and "first". I don't feel strongly either way on whether that is necessary. But anyway, it blows my mind that this was missing. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 17:19, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

Agreed. Stephen Turner (Talk) 10:46, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
Any take on whether it will need text differencing it from the "first"/"number one" issue? My rede of your feeling on this is "don't explicate unless there's a known major problem", and I think I can side with that, but remain a tiny bit concerned about conflicting-sounding advice; it might only need four words, like: (Text in another section explaining that we spell things out), except when giving measurements." — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 18:18, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
Perhaps this should be qualified with "... except at the start of a sentence." Askari Mark (Talk) 02:40, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
Good point! — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 05:35, 21 March 2007 (UTC)

Spelling out units in the text

Original says:

  • Spell out units in the text.

This conflicts, being so matter-of-factly written, with the document's own recommendations later on, where exceptions are made; conflicts with pretty muc every other style guide there is; and runs against vast-majority WP practice. It is also baldfacedly prescriptivist, of a very particular (largely British) preference that many consider old-fashioned, even in the UK. New, flexible version (which even allows editors to be as old-fashioned as they'd like):

  • It is permissible to spell out units in the text (e.g. "5 millimetres") or to abbreviate them to unit symbols ("5 mm"). Abbreviating has the benefit of avoiding disputes over US vs. UK and modern vs. old-fashioned spellings ("millimeters" vs. "millimetres", "kilogram" vs. "kilogramme"), but should not be used for uncommon units that the average encyclopedia reader would not understand (e.g., spell out milliamperes).

I think this is pretty self-explanatory, but just to spell it out: Allows the editorship to make up its collective mind on an article-by-article basis, highlights that one should avoid my-side-of-the-Atlantic bitchslapping, and adds an important missing codicil about not making things hard to understand for any reader who doesn't happen to be a chemist or electrical engineer like you. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 17:19, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

I firmly agree with allowing symbols for common units — to ban them just seems silly (although we might need to explicitly ban the relatively common American practice of using m for miles). However, I would like to hear the views of other editors on this one, because I seem to remember some long debates about this recently (I haven't got time to trawl through the archives to find them right now).
I don't agree with being so prescriptive about uncommon units. In many articles, mA, or at least mA, would be appropriate.
Stephen Turner (Talk) 10:54, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
That all works for me. I threw in the uncommon units bit on a whim. I don't think the idea is all bad, but it was too overarching as I phrased it. It would indeed be properly to use mA in an article on electrical engineering or the like, and in a radically different concept it could simply be wikilinked to Ampere. I hadn't though of "m" for miles at all, but now that you mention it, I do see that all the time, so - good call. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 18:18, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
No, "m" for miles is not a "common American practice". It is much more common in Britain than it is in America, IMHO, but even that is rarely encountered from British editors here. They symbol "mi" is routine in the United States. But we do have a large number of Wikipedia articles using "m" for miles; a few of them the India-related articles which get many measurement symbols wrong, using "kms" or "Kms" and the like. But most of the Wikipedia articles using "m" for miles get it from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, the last British version of that encyclopedia. The early American editions kept that up, but they changed quite a while ago, maybe half a century or so. Gene Nygaard 03:09, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
Oh kay... To de-rant this a little: Do you see any one suggesting that Americans in particular abbreviate miles as "m"? I don't. For my part, I noted that I have seen the abbreviation a number of time. Why are you trying to make this an "evil Briticism" debate when current British practice is the opposite (m = metres) and your "source" is almost a century old? — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 05:19, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
Steven Turner's "the relatively common American practice of using m for miles". Gene Nygaard 12:16, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
My bad. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 23:51, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
Sorry, I didn't mean to be anti-American; I just thought that was the case. I haven't seen m for miles in Britain for a long time, maybe because metres are now much more familiar. I still it may be worth making a specific note about it, because it does crop up. Stephen Turner (Talk) 09:44, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
The "for a long time" is a key part of it. That is more true in the U.S. than in the UK. Things like "mph" or "mpg" don't cout in this case, but "sq. m" or "m²" do.
Britannica 1911 remains the chief culprit in any such cases on Wikipedia. It was written a "long time" ago. Witness:
Gene Nygaard 12:16, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
I'd say this really raises a new point to be addressed; the guideline doesn't really offer any guidance on what to do about units like "square miles". But it should. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 23:53, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
Is it different if the unit is a metric unit vs an American unit? For example, is 16 km more acceptable than 10 mi, or 10 mm more acceptable than 4 in? I'm inclined to think it might be, but then I'm not American. Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:03, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
The point I raise elsewhere is that "mi" and "in" are unbelievably uncommon in the real world, at least in general prose (for all I know maybe specialist journals like Science and Nature prefer them without the period); when these things are abbreviated it is with periods so it is clear that they are abbreviations. By this point, even the anti-metric American recognizes mm, cm, km, etc., and doesn't expect them to have periods after them. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 18:18, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
I’d say "sq mi" or "mi2" would suffice. I’ve never seen "sq m" used to mean anything other than square meters. Askari Mark (Talk) 02:40, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
My question was whether MOSNUM should recommend one style (wordy) or the other (superscript). The superscript seems much neater to me, but that's a pretty POV take. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 05:43, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
I'd say "editor's choice", although I would expect to see use of the superscript on science-related articles. Askari Mark (Talk) 17:06, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
I'd say superscript should be preferred... except that many editors may not know how to properly type it, leaving aside the fact that there are multiple forms of 2/² available. ;) --Dante Alighieri | Talk 22:34, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
We had a discussion a while ago about the preferred abbreviation for square miles and we came up with using sq mi and using km² for square kilometers. The traditional abbreviation form of sq mi is more commonly seen then the scientific form of mi², and the opposite was true of km² vs sq km. That way, when listed together, there is a better contrast between metric and imperial using the most common forms of their abbreviations. However, we don't even need to be having that discussion because with a few exceptions, units of measurement should always be spelled out in text. This section of the manual of style evolved over time for good reason and shouldn't be re-written "by April". —MJCdetroit 02:20, 22 March 2007 (UTC)
Well, there are a lot of infoboxes "out there" nowadays, so it might be helpful to clarify the preferences for general text vice infoboxes and tables and such (so poor, overworked editors don't have to go fixing overly wordy infobox text). Askari Mark (Talk) 03:24, 26 March 2007 (UTC)

Measurements in parentheses

Original says:

  • Use digits and unit symbols for values in parentheses and for measurements in tables. For example,... (examples elided; they were not changed, other than to remove a weird an inappropriate bold-emphasis of the conjunction "or").
  • It is also acceptable to abbreviate with unit symbols for values in parentheses but otherwise spell out the unit. For example, "a pipe 100 millimetres (4 in) in diameter and 16 kilometres (10 mi) long", or "a pipe 4 inches (100 mm) in diameter and 10 miles (16 km) long". Many editors do not prefer this, however, and editwarring to preserve this "mix-and-match" formatting is cautioned against).

New version is again not an iron-fisted prescription, but recognizes that different editors have different preferences here, and often feel very strongly about it (trust me, they do.) The language is also more explanatory ("digits and unit symbols for values in..." is a bit obtuse). The stuff about tables has been moved, not deleted, BTW. My personal preference would be to actually strongly advise against the mix-and-match style, as it is illogical and confusing, but I'm trying to come at all of this as if I were hired by a third party to write their marketing materials - my personal take isn't of any consequence, only the desires of the client (i.e. the Wikpedia community as a whole); I can bring my POV to the debate some other time, after the general mess of this section is cleaned up. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 17:19, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

Again, I have a feeling that this was discussed relatively recently. Interestingly, in your examples, spelling out the SI unit and using an abbreviation for the American/Imperial unit looks very wrong to me, but the other way looks entirely natural.
The way this is written seems too prescriptive to me. For a start, the MoS shouldn't need to caution against edit warring — that's a given in all contexts. But if we're going to allow words or abbreviations in text, this bullet point suddenly seems redundant to me — it's only necessary if you're going to force words in text and symbols in parentheses. Couldn't we just drop it altogether?
Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:01, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
Given that my main complaint is over-prescriptivism, if my substitutions/additions seem prescriptivist then they obviously need paring down! Warnings against edit-warring: Perfectly fine with dropping them. That was WP:CREEP. I agree that the whole thing can just be removed; I didn't remove it myself, just modified it, because I was trying to avoid deletions in the big edit, saving them for later. But now it is later.  :-) Also, strongly agree with your take in the first part of your reply, but I didn't want to remove the examples (which weren't mine to begin with), for same reason already given. My first round of edits was to add/alter not remove. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 18:27, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
Should something be said about those occasions when the indication of two alternate units of measure are appropriate? This can appear in aviation articles, for instance, where liquid volumes are concerned — e.g., "xx gal (US) (yy Imp gal, zz l[iter])". Askari Mark (Talk) 02:47, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
If this is common and non-obvious enough that it needs a clarification, I have no objection. I'll let others weigh in before opining more concretely. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 05:38, 21 March 2007 (UTC)

Measurements in tables

Original had this as a side note in the parens section, but as the new version of it isn't prescriptive and we need to be near-prescriptive here, it's a new bullet point:

  • Abbreviating with unit symbols is strongly recommended when the measurements appear in a table or table-like list.

Note addition of "table-like list"; the vast majority of tables on Wikipedia begin their "life" as plain * or # lists until someone who knows table syntax comes along and improves them. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 17:19, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

Agreed. Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:04, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
Me too. —MJCdetroit 02:26, 22 March 2007 (UTC)

References to units themselves

This point was simply completely missing from the document:

  • Always spell out unit names when refering to the units themselves rather than to a measurement: "a four-minute mile", "some people think better in ounces than they do in grams".

The example text could probably be better, esp. in the latter example. Intended to be inserted immediately before the "* Use standard abbreviations..." item. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 17:19, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

I agree that those things should be written like that, but I don't think we need a guideline about it. How many editors would actually write "some people think better in oz than they do in g"? I think we would be cautioning against a non-existent error. Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:06, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
Yep, it's WP:CREEP. I rescind it with extreme prejudice. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 18:29, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
Units should always be spelled out in indefinite references—in anything that doesn't have a number associated with it, for example. At least for the fairly simple units formed from not more than a couple of units, such as "miles per hour" or "ampere-hours" and the like. If it is build up from a whole bunch of units, there are some contexts where a symbolic version might be acceptable.
One problem with your whole discussion, of course, is that it assumes we are only going to be be using the simplest units, forgetting about very common things such as joules per mole-degree Celsius and many much more complicated than that. Gene Nygaard 03:16, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
I don't understand your longer point, but I take the gist to mean that yes, you support the fact that self-referential units should be spelled out and that I've rescinded the proposition that we need to say so because it is obvious. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 05:25, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
Well, what I don't understand is how this "four-minute mile" fits into whatever you mean by "self-referential". Gene Nygaard 12:19, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
Self-referential was the wrong word. I think "meta-referential" would be better. The point was that if you are talking about a unit rather than about a measurment, never abbreviate, but as Stephen Turner points out this isn't an actual problem, to it's WP:CREEP and was dropped. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 23:56, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
I think Gene is right. —MJCdetroit 02:31, 22 March 2007 (UTC)
About what? This appears to be a dead topic, and gene's point was "...I don't understand..." — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 05:10, 22 March 2007 (UTC)

Appending a period

This point and its subpoints was completely missing from the document; it is intended to immediately follow the related "do not append an 's'" point:

  • Generally (and definitely for metric units) do not append a period after unit symbols unless the symbol also happens to be a word or otherwise would be ambiguous or hard to parse in-context (but it is not necessary to do so in the former case unless it could be confusing). E.g., use "4 in. long" or "4 in. in length", but optionally use "(4 in)" without the period, because the "in" is not ambiguous in the third case. However, many editors prefer to append a period to all American/Imperial unit abbreviations, e.g. mi., ft., lb., qt., etc. This practice is tolerated (and should not be editwarred to undo) since it is traditional, recommended by many style guides, and makes reading easier for many; but it should not be applied to other unit types ("cm.", "KB.", "dB.", etc.)
I don't know of any modern style guide recommending it for all English units. That may have been common in the 1940s or earlier; it isn't common today. Gene Nygaard 03:20, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
What you don't know of is not of any particular relevance here. I can cite both the original Fowler and the revised descriptive rather than prescriptive guide that ironically still bears his name, on this matter. I feel like a WP:DICK doing so, but I have to warn that you are increasingly coming off as having a crank position on these matters and seem to be generating arguments simply for the sake of arguing. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 05:38, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
Fowler may have "Modern" in the title, but it is not by any stretch of the imagination what I would call "modern" in this context. The man himself has been dead for three-quarters of a century; the original came out back in 1926. And something not being changed in the 1990s revision isn't particularly strong evidence of anything.
Nonetheless, I would be interested in exactly how the lastest Fowler phrases it. Gene Nygaard 12:48, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
A very good point. My "modern" edition actually dates to 1989, making it of dubious usefulness. I tried to get the newest ed. tonight, but the bookstore I thought was open until midnight closes at 10pm (my time; about 1.75 hours ago) on weeknights, alas. So this will have to wait until tomorrow. NB: Just to hopefully de-escalate a little (esp. with regard to other subtopics here): I didn't come here to fight with you, Gene. I'm honestly trying to help this guideline be as useful as possible, and I assume that is also your goal. So hopefully we can be less testy with each other. I apologize for my "WTF?" edit summaries which probably set this off. They were intended as silly humor, but even I see them as baiting on a second read. Definitely a bad idea on my part, and I'm sorry for the fallout it has reaped. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 05:55, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
The form with periods was often recommended when I was a kid. But then something happened that changed significantly the use of "abbreviations" for units of measurement. That something was, of course, the introduction of the International System of Units in 1960. This resulted in a great many changes in the way "symbols" are used, and that word symbols is a deliberate choice of terminology used to distinguish several of the properties in the modern view of them. The SI was the first real clear notion of having exactly one proper symbol for a unit of measure. These symbols were to be international in nature, the same in any language (the Italians may spell the unit "it:chilogrammo" but they still use the symbol "kg" for it). These symbols remain unchanged in the plural, and were not to use the dot at the end. They should never be italicized, even if the text around them is. Prior to that, "cm." was common. So was "gm." for gram.
Then once these notions got imprinted on the minds of users, and became generally accepted especially in scientific fields, they same principles were applied to cgs units (such as dynes) and other non-SI metric units (such as calories) as well as English units (such as ft and lb).
It is that shift from an "abbreviation" paradigm to a "symbol" paradigm which is a significant factor in modern usage. Note also that even the mid-1960s revision of Fowler isn't "modern" enough for these changes to have had anything near the effect they have today. Gene Nygaard 12:48, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
Noted. But the points that come into my mind are a) The Système Internationale (or whatever diacritic actually belongs in there) was principally concerned with the metric system; to the extent that it has exerted influence further, and particularly upon American/Imperial units, it seems to be rather incidental "me-too"-ism and by no means fully accepted; and b) SI does not have universal acceptance regardless what units one is speaking of; see elsewhere on this talk page for highly inflamed disagreement with SI recommendations (I remain neutral on that Xib disputation; I see its merits but also those of its detractors. I could go into that more, but I won't here, becuase the thoughts run to rampant hard drive industry snowing of their customer base and other socio-political issues that aren't germane here ]yes, I remembered the non-Jackson spelling]). Other issues: Agreed that 1960s Fowler isn't of use here, and nor is my late 1980s edition. But a clarification that really probably belongs higher up somewhere: I wasn't earlier trying to imply that the original, actually-Fowler-authored Fowler would be authoritative, I only mentioned it at all to disambiguate that I was depending upon a post-Folwer-himself edition of Fowler. If anyone were to surmise that Fowler, the writer and prescriptive grammarian, would be spinning in his grave over the decidedly descriptive book bearing his surname as a brand name, I wouldn't disagree. Something similar might also be said of Webster and Roget, at this point. Anyway, to get back on-point, I don't think it can be categorically said that in./in, or ft/ft., etc., "are" symbols per se; yes, they have been defined as such by some parties, but general usage has not (yet?) accepted them as such, or as anything but abbreviations like "approx." and "ca." Ergo, as I proposed, WP should tolerate the period-bearing usage in the case of such units. I take your word for it that "gm." and the like used to be common (doesn't ring any bells personally, and I'm almost 40...) but they are not any longer, so those should not be sanctioned by MOSNUM. Wether MOSNUM should recommend that "in", "ft", etc. be "in.", "ft." and so on, could be questionable, but it's presently hard for me to understand a stated position against tolerance of it. PS: If I'm thwacking a straw man here, please say so; I do not want to be recasting an argument incorrectly, and that is easy to do after this much verbiage and time. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 06:29, 21 March 2007 (UTC)

I really couldn't believe this was missing, especially because of the readibility violence done to articles by things like "16 in long" (especially for those who are using screen-reader software!) Please note again that it goes to pains to prevent UK/US grammar-nazi squabbles by simply being permissive, the way the MoS and other policies (cf. WP:CSD Speedy disqualifier 1, as an example) are about US vs. UK English in every other context; MoS needs to get in line with that better here. I copyedited the codicil to be stronger, and the in/in. part to be less prescriptive and to agree with other revised sections. My personal preference would be to actually invert this, and say that one should use a period with traditional Imperial/American units, instead of implying that it's not the preferred format. This would actually reduce the verbiage by eliminating the need for the whole in vs in. disambig discussion, and make the segment less anti-US POV. It might be better to fork this into two bullets, one about Imp./Am. units and one about metric and other units. I don't care very much about that, but do care a lot that the points be in there in whatever format. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 17:19, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

I'd agree with the above - "the rod was 16 in long" is hard to read with speech synthesizers because they think the "in" is a preposition (as it normally is) so it isn't emphasised. If the period was added this would make things easier. There are some (now rarely used) speech synthesizers like Dectalk which tried to figure those things out by context but that caused its own problems. One thing I would even more strongly discourage is the use of apostrophes and quotes for feet and inches some people read with punctuation off and therefore miss the measurements altogether. I'd hate to find out what 3' or 7" are like in braille on some braille displays. Graham87 02:45, 17 March 2007 (UTC)
Two notes: The present guideline recommends using the abbreviated version mostly inside parentheses and in tables, but this doesn't actually do anything to ameliorate the usability/accessibility problem. Just want to nip that objection at the seed level. The second note is that fortunately the guideline already says not to use ' and " for feet and inches, so we're good-to-go on that one. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 03:28, 17 March 2007 (UTC)
Actually, we're not. Not if you look at actual usage, rather than what the style guide says. We ought to revise it to say that the apostrophe and double quote version are acceptable in one context, and only in that one context—in listing the height of people, as in all the basketball player and many other sportspeople articles. It is nice and compact and quite easily understood in that context. In fact, it is understood even when instead of the double quote, people use two apostrophes which remain invisible, but which make what follows italic, something seen fairly often in infoboxes. Furthermore, prime and double prime should be acceptable alternatives, but not any of the "fancy" quotation marks. Gene Nygaard 12:27, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
To what end? What happened to your insistence on consistency? Why make such an odd one-time exception, that hardly anyone will remember is limited to that special case? — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 00:18, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
My reaction to this is that the versions with periods look wrong to me, but I think this is a UK/U.S. difference. British English never uses a dot after an abbreviation if the abbreviation ends in the same letter as the word (e.g. "Prof. Jones", but "Dr Smith", whereas Americans normally write "Dr. Smith"). We tend not to use dots after standard abbreviations either (look at the end of the first sentence of this paragraph).
Nevertheless, it's American units we're talking about here, so adding periods may be allowable. If we're going to have this guideline, we don't need to caution about edit warring (which is never acceptable even for the strictest rules), and we should absolutely ban it for other types of units. I would write the final sentence as:
  • This practice is tolerated since it is recommended by many style guides, but it must not be applied to other unit types ("cm." etc.).
Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:20, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
Yes; I am certainly aware of the British practice, and it is certainly true that in US English it's considered "wrong". I see people get into silly little edit wars about "Mr[.]" here and there. With acronyms, even Americans drop the period usually (no one really writes "I.P. address"), which is actually a strong point in favor of both "mm" (acronym-of-sorts) and "in." (abbreviation). Agreed again on dropping the editwarring warning. Agreed on final sentence re-write, but would close it with '("cm.", "dB.", etc.)' or otherwise include a non-metric example so it isn't mistaken for "don't do this with metric, but do it with everthing else." — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 18:35, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
Actually a last-sentence revision might be in order, to get rid of the POV "tolerated": 'While this practice is recommended by many style guides for these particular units, it must not by applied to other unit types ("cm.", "dB.", etc.)' — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 19:09, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
Dots with unit symbols are now very rare in scientific usage in the United States, in textbooks or in scientific papers or whatever. And yes, there is still a significant amount of scientific usage in those units, though in many fields metric is much more common. But even on other things, such as the units of measurement on nutrition labels, and on the contents labeling of foods, and on labels of hardware items and cleaning supplies, in recipe books, etc., the versions without dots are much more common for the English units than the versions with dots. You are much more likely to see the miscapitalized versions (OZ, YD) and the ones with an "s" in the plural (yds, LBS). But dots or no dots is roughly a tossup inthat context. Gene Nygaard 03:30, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
"Now very rare"? On what basis are you saying that? "Or whatever" doesn't inspire much faith. "There is still a sigificant amount of scientific usage"? That cinches it, thank you. Miscaps: Yes, I agree that is a frequent issue, esp. with regard to "OZ.", but, well, eh, so what? Not germain to the issue (or is that germaine? I always forget which is the Jackson and which is the word...) — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 05:45, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
I would have to agree with Gene—no periods after abbreviations. It seems like the main reason for having the periods is so that they won't "be ambiguous" in a sentence much like you used above— 4 in. in length... That just goes back to the whole spelling units out in text. Do it and you won't need a period after any symbols. —MJCdetroit 16:29, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
I think you missed the accessibility part of this discussion (see comments by Graham87). No one is proposing "mm."; but "in." is actually necessary. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 00:09, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
My take was that MJCdetroit was indicating that simply writing out "4 inches in length", rather than attempting the abbreviation, removes all ambiguity and resolves any accessibility issues. There may be other contexts in which this could still be an issue, but in the examples provided simply spelling out the units in prose is an adequate solution. — Aluvus t/c 00:32, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
Clarified: "in." is actually necessary when the unit is abbreviated. Since the guideline does not presently and is unlikely ever to forbid abbreviating such units, the issue still stands. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 01:02, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
Aluvus, would be correct. He moves on to the bonus round! Spelling out the unit leaves no ambiguity and in infoboxes and tables where both metric and imperial are abbreviated, I would hope that the reader would be able to figure out that we are starting values in both measurements. As for the period being necessary after an abbreviation—it's not. It is completely unnecessary and rarely used as such. You say that you wouldn't require a period after metric abbreviations only imperial, that would look odd one with periods and one without. How does other encyclopedias like world book, brittanniac, or encarta do it? What is the NIST's recommendation? What is most common? I don't have any style guides in front of me, I can only go by my personal experience and in my experience (I read a lot of measurement laden specifications for work) one rarely sees dots after any abbreviations. —MJCdetroit 02:45, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
Well, anecdotal evidence pretty much counts for naught... that said, I see periods after Imperial abbreviations often enough. --Dante Alighieri | Talk 22:40, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
Yes, I too have seen them after imperial abbreviations...in the advertisements for Big Lots.—MJCdetroit 02:42, 22 March 2007 (UTC)

Standard abbreviations

Conforming edit for the passage immediately above, slight shortening, rm. unneeded parens, otherwise the same:

  • Use standard abbreviations when using symbols. Examples: metre is m; kilogram is kg; inch is in (or in.; see below), not " or ″; foot is ft or ft., not ' or ′ and pound is lb or lb. (not #).

Copyedited to agree with the other revised sections better. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 17:19, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

Uncontoversial copy edit. Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:22, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
Well, do note that it introduces the period at the end of YankeeUnits; so it could be controversial if someone has a big objection to doing that, above. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 18:36, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
I do object to that. We can and should have our consistent style here. Gene Nygaard 03:31, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
That view conflicts sharply with a lot of other long-settled consensuses (such as no editwarring over US vs. UK English, among others). WP is simply tolerant of differing preferences with regard to how to write articles, despite the fact that the results are not robotically uniform. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 00:13, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
Frankly, in both technical and general usage in the U.S., using #, ', or " is generally considered sloppy (except the latter pair when giving heights). It is not what is taught, but rather are "slang" abbreviations. Askari Mark (Talk) 03:01, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
Agreed. So I'm proposing that MOSNUM not countenance them, even for human heights, because if there's that exception even MOSNUM regulars might forget where it "okay" and "not okay", and 99.9something% of WPians are not MOSNUM regulars. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 05:57, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
I'd have no problem deprecating the "tic marks" for all purposes except use in tables for heights (but not weights). Askari Mark (Talk) 17:11, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
Not to throw a wrench into things, but I do see enough technical specs and other documents from "large" corporations that I can safely say that if ' and " are considered "sloppy", a significant portion of the engineering community is sloppy. --Dante Alighieri | Talk 22:44, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
I would agree, but once again no periods. —MJCdetroit 03:00, 22 March 2007 (UTC)
And your point is, Dante? ;-) (BTW, I am an engineer.) Askari Mark (Talk) 03:28, 26 March 2007 (UTC)
My point was that given the relative frequency with which I seem to encounter the usage, I doubt whether the perception of them as "sloppy" is truly widespread. --Dante Alighieri | Talk 05:14, 26 March 2007 (UTC)

Direct quotation

Typo fix:

  • In a direct quotation, if the text includes an obscure use of units (e.g., five million board-feet of lumber), annotate it with a footnote which provides metric units rather than changing the actual quotation.

I.e., hypenate board-feet just like we do with foot-pound, etc. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 17:19, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

I have no idea what a board-foot is, but I trust you. :-) Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:23, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
Heh. I'm not sure either, I just know it is a compound noun here, which get hyphenated when not fused into a single word ("a checkup"). — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 18:38, 18 March 2007 (UTC)

Obscure units

Another completely missing point; intended to come immediately after the direct quotations point, since it is related:

  • Except in quotations, do not use obscure or archaic units (drams, cubits, etc.) unless it is important in the context, and the usage is explained in more common units in the text or with a footnote or a wikilink to the unusual unit's article.

Note: borrows (and expands on, since wikilinking is relevant here) footnoting recommendation from the quotations line-item. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 17:19, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

I'm not sure what fault this is trying to correct. How many people are writing articles with cubits in, outside specialist contexts where cubits are the appropriate measurement? Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:25, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
Borderline WP:CREEP. I don't think it hurts anything, but won't argue very strongly to keep it. Actually, I'll rescind it. I think this concept is already covered under the general recommendations for what to wikilink and what not to. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 18:41, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
Actually there a whole lot of articles using rather obscure units from all around the world. They should sometimes be retained as the best indicator of the actual precision of the original measurement. Gene Nygaard 03:35, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
Why are you making in-yo'-face argument against propositions that have already been rescinded by the proponent? Hint: WP:TEA. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 05:48, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
Because it is a bad idea that needs to be killed. And because "rescinding" is bad terminology in the first place, and something that is not within your power to do once the issue has been raised. Yes, you can say that you are abandoning it as a proposal. But that doesn't necessarily mean it is dean. It's out of your hands; that proposal isn't something you own. But let's just make damn sure that people understand that while it may have been well-intended, what you had proposed wouldn't be effective in achieving any improvement in the quality of our articles. Gene Nygaard 00:34, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
Just FYI, accusations of WP:OWNership are accusations of bad faith. Anyway, I guess I can see your point, but it seems to be beating a dead horse, into jelly. The fact that someone retracts a poor proposal is generally enough indication that it wasn't a good idea. Wikipedia doesn't need you, personally, to act as Wikipedia Defender, Knight in Shining Armor (jousting with windmills, no less.) — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 01:06, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
I believe this bit on obscure units should remain. Gene Nygaard is right, but also I’ve seen quite a bit of obscure and obsolete units appear in articles. Not long ago while doing some work in WP:DEAD, I came across a bunch of stub articles with South Asian units (mostly dry and liquid measures) that I hadn’t the foggiest about. None of them offered a conversion to anything else and most drew a blank on Google (other than WP & mirrors). At the very least, footnote the first use of the unit and offer a conversion to SI units. Askari Mark (Talk) 03:14, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
I think it should stay too. —MJCdetroit 03:05, 22 March 2007 (UTC)

Level of precision/some units have more than one version/source's original units

No text change except to the third (see next item), but move down in priority with each other, after the formatting points. Many other points are far more important. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 17:19, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

Seems uncontroversial to me. Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:26, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
I disagree. This is of primary importance; it should be emphasized more, not less, lest we just become another Britannica. Gene Nygaard 13:52, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
Where would you put it then? It's just kind of in the middle right now. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 00:15, 21 March 2007 (UTC)

Source's original units

Basic grammar fix:

  • Following footnote or source citation conventions, add a reference for a measurement, identifying not only the source but also the source's original units.

SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 17:19, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

Uncontroversial copy edit. Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:28, 18 March 2007 (UTC)

Space/nbsp

Basic logic/parseability fix:

  • Put a space between the value and the unit symbol, for example "25 kg" not "25kg". Preferably, use   for the space (25 kg) so that the two parts do not become separated by line wrapping.

Line wrapping and line breaks (br) are not the same thing, spaces do not cause line breaks, and preventing either isn't the point; keeping the numbers and unit together is the point. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 17:19, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

Another uncontroversial copy edit. Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:28, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
Keeping numbers and units together is usually not a necessary thing. It isn't recommended as an overall rule by any of the measurement standards organizations. It isn't a requirement of any style guide I have ever seen, other than our WIkipedia MoS.
What is far more important is not having a break within a number itself, and not having a break within the units themselves. Always use either a middot (which is nonbreaking) or a nonbreaking space between the components of a unit which are multiplied together: N·m, J mol−1 K−1, ft·lbf, g cm−3, etc. And use a nonbreaking space in 2 13/16 in, etc. Gene Nygaard 03:45, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
And, as a practical matter, the biggest problem by far on Wikipedia is the sillions of articles using 182cm and 83kg and the like without any space at all. Worry about fixing that problem, not something as inconsequential and unnecessary as a nonbreaking space rather than an ordinary one between a number and a unit symbol. Gene Nygaard 03:47, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
Note specifically that I object to the use of the nonbreaking space in this context because in a measurement intensive article especially, it:
  • Makes the edit page very hard to read.
  • Makes it difficult to tell on the edit page if all the unit symbols are preceded by a space at all.
  • Is not necessary.
Gene Nygaard 04:24, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
You keep making all these assertions about what standards and/or standards bodies do or don't do, yet you never cite a source. Interesting. And then proceed to issue "never" or "always" proclamations. Interesting. And, um, rather than ranting against the MoS making a simple recommendation that measurements and their units not be divided by breakable whitespace, why not actually go fix a bunch of articles suffering from the no-space-at-all problem you deplore. See WP:AWB; if you aren't a Linux or Mac user, I think you'll find the AWB tool to be very handy for mass fixes of this sort. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 05:54, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
I concur with Gene on his first set of points regarding not having a break within a number itself, and not having a break within the units themselves, as well as encouraging the use of middots with mixed units and non-breaking spaces for complex fractions. I also sympathize with the "unreadability" of the edit page (for those of us who are "bot-challenged") — but it already is unreadable and it is what it is. I take the middle way on non-breaking spaces between values and units, though; I only add them where an end of line or image actually do force a break or a minor future edit threatens to do so. Askari Mark (Talk) 03:26, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
I don't understand that last point. The position of line breaks is different for everyone, depending on their browser window width (and font). Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:22, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
Thanks for reminding me – I tend to forget that. Point taken. Askari Mark (Talk) 17:15, 21 March 2007 (UTC)

Reduction

Another major missing point:

  • Just as one would reduce a fraction, such as "4/8" to the more readily understandable "1/2", reduce units to their most minimal sensible representation — the one that uses the fewest units or produces the roundest or most intuitive result — unless there is a strong reason not to do so in the context. Examples: Use "1 cm" not "100 mm", since the extra zeros just add unneccessary complexity. Use "10.33 m", not "1033 cm", because 10 and approx. 1/3 m is easier to grasp than the arbitrary 1033 cm. Use 798 m, not 0.798 km, because the distance truly is arbitrary, the 798 version uses whole numbers, and the decimal version will be near-meaningless to many readers. When the result is round, this applies equally to non-metric units (e.g. prefer "1 ft" over "12 in").

This could probably be shortened. I'm better at giving examples and explaining them than reducing things to zen. Copyedited to fix 103.3 for 1033 typo. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 17:19, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

Again, I'm not really sure we need a guideline about this. I can certainly imagine people unfamiliar with the non-source unit getting it wrong sometimes; but the guideline wouldn't then help them, because it's not that they're trying to make it more obscure, it's that they don't know which position of the decimal place is less obscure. To put it another way, it's hard to codify which is the "minimal sensible representation" or "most intuitive result", and people who know which it is are going to write it the right way anyway without thinking about it. And if they don't, it's easy to fix on a case-by-case basis without causing an edit war. Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:37, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
I can buy that. Rescinded. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 18:42, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
That is a bad idea. The nonsense about centimeters is especially bad; centimeters are good for your hat size and for cubic centimeters, and that's about the extent of it. The preference is for unit prefixes which are powers of 1000. Millimeters are almost always preferable to centimeters, expecially for anything that would be expressed as fractinal parts of a centimeter. Gene Nygaard 03:50, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
Huh? What is a bad idea? What is "bad"? "Always"? Where are you getting this from?!? Ahem.SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 05:58, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
A spot of tea, Stanton? ;-) Definitely a bit of WP:CREEP with this one; in fact, there can be examples where the contrary of the given examples might be preferable or represent traditional usage (e.g., listing weapon calibers). Askari Mark (Talk) 03:31, 21 March 2007 (UTC)

Don't decimalize feet, quarts, etc.

A major missing point, intended to follow the one immediately above since they are closely related:

  • For non-metric units, it will often be preferable to use the shorter units than fractional longer ones (e.g. "25 in" vs. "2.17 ft"), because the smaller-unit figures may be both more accurate (the real foot measurement in the example is 2.1666...), and much easier to understand due to the nature of rulers, gauges and other measuring devices for such units. For the same reason, fractional measurements in such units should use actual fractions (e.g. "3/8") where possible, not decimal representations.

This one is really crucial. It's a fairly serious problem in articles already, and arises when someone used to the metric system uses a web- or desktop-based converter and produces results like "8.634 feet" which is useless gibberish. I copy-edited this one to make the point better. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 17:19, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

This seems sensible if you've found it's already causing problems (although again it's hard to codify exactly which is the correct choice of unit unless you're familiar with the unit you're converting into). Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:40, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
This one I would argue strongly to keep (though it may need a copy edit, since it was written to follow the one we both just agreed can be skipped.) I do in fact see this frequently; it's a product of helpfully-intended but lazy or sometimes "decimal-addicted" conversion (I've actually seen someone go through an article and convert every fraction to decimals, where this generally made no sense at all). — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 18:46, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
There are various sorts of problems with precision in our articles; there is nothing in this notion that would reduce them or provide any reasonable guidance on avoiding them. Gene Nygaard 03:53, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
I don't get your point. I've already clearly idenified the problem this passage would solve. That it wouldn't solve other problems is immaterial. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 01:08, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
I think this belongs with a discussion of the use of significant figures. The reason to eschew decimalization of English units of measure is because they are non-metric in origin and conversion to decimals can produce unfortunate illusions in the form of “over-precision”, as well as “over-precise” errors where the English units were estimates or rounded themselves – and heaven forefend that the units may undergo multiple cycles of “translation” between each system. Askari Mark (Talk) 03:39, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
The danger of "false precision" is real. We should discourage decimalization of English units. --Dante Alighieri | Talk 22:50, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
I tend to agree with keeping as fractions. I guess if the source value is in fraction form; keep it in fractional form. There are weird anomalies out there like the Mil Specs calling for 0.375"-16 fasteners when there are always called 3/8"-16 fasteners. —MJCdetroit 03:26, 22 March 2007 (UTC)

Approximations

Another crucial missing point:

  • In a context where precision is important, if a conversion results in an approximate value then it should be labelled as such unless the level of precision already leads to an expectation of inexact values.

I seem to recall that something in the original text somewhere hinted at this without spelling it out, but it may have even been in a completely different part of the MoS, as I can't seem to find it now. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 17:19, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

PS: I found it it; it's at WP:MOSNUM#Numbers. While it is a good general point, I think it should be reiterated more specifically, as written above, in the measurements section, because many, many editors will head straight for that section without ever reading the more general one, and the bare fact is that unit conversion very frequently results in approximations. Also, copyedited to agree better with other revised sections.
Seems sensible. Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:41, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
Is "labelled" or "labeled" preferred? I'm of a WP:DGAF mind on that one, but someone might care. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 18:47, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
There is generally little reason for identifying conversions as approximate. The conversions should always be roughly the same precision as the original; in most cases, there will only be two or at most three options which are even arguable for the level of precision. Keeping the original measurements first is an important part of retaining the sense of the original measurements. What is really silly is things where the originals have been thrown away, as in this example from Transport in Greece:
  • With paved runways: 67
  • over 3,047 m: 5
  • 2,438 to 3,047 m: 16
  • 1,524 to 2,437 m: 19
  • 914 to 1,523 m: 17
These are defined cuttoff points; exact values (rounded values or one less when expressed in feet).
The situation is a little bit different for measured quantities. No measured quantity is ever exact; that's simply impossible. The appropriate level of precision is generally apparent from the looks of the numbers themselves, especially if there are a series of related measurements. For an isolated measurement standing alone, it might sometimes be desirable to indicate that a measurement is actually more precise than it appears that it might be; to point out that some of the trailing zeros are actually significant, for example. Or to specify "x ft 0 in" rather than just saying "x ft", for example. There will almost never be any need to say it is less precise than it appears to be, as proposed in this suggestion, as long as the conversion is rounded off appropriately. Gene Nygaard 04:07, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
To the extent that conversions in artciles actually do match the precision level of the original figure, then yes. I don't agree that this provision is pointless, because the precision levels often do not mesh, as mentioned elsewhere. I think the extant language and suggested improved language with regard to precision moots this point at that level but not at the level it was intended at. It is cerainly possible that the proposed solution misses the mark; bears further discussion. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 06:25, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
This one begs to be better described and clarified with a good example such as the one Gene gives above. In that particular case, however, I think the guidance should be to prefer the original source’s units and give the conversions in parentheses. Askari Mark (Talk) 03:44, 21 March 2007 (UTC)

Cross-comparing unit types

Yet another important missing point, but probably the lowest-priority since it isn't overwhelmingly common (I have definitely encounted it in WP before though, again probably due to people carelessly using online converters to perfunctorily provide a conversion without any regard for whether it would be usable by those actually needing the conversion):

  • Do not cross-compare unit types: "1 statute mile is approximately equivalent to 1.6 kilometers", not "to 1600 meters" — users who do not already intuitively understand the kilometer do not grasp the meter either, so equating a mile to meters is essentially meaningless (except in a special context, such as the article about the meter/metre unit). Misuses of this sort should be repaired, not deleted.

Copyedited to agree with the level-of-precision point. Made a small wording twiddle, too. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 17:19, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

There is nothing more irritating than people who get the confused notion that inches go to centimeters (as opposed ot meters or millimeters or micrometers or whatever), or that feet per minute go to meters per minute rather than meters per second, etc. Gene Nygaard 04:10, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
There is nothing more irritating than people who needlessly abuse hyperbole, especially in an uncalled-for condescending manner. --Dante Alighieri | Talk 22:53, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
I don't actually understand what you're trying to say here. How is this different from #Reduction? It seems like you've got a specific fault in mind, but I haven't understood what it is. Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:43, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
Nevermind; I'll rescind this one as WP:CREEP as well; like "4/8", it's just something any sensible later editor would correct when encountered, and no one would object, so it doesn't really need to be in here. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 18:49, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
I don’t think this is WP:CREEP at all. Why generate more work for experienced editors later? I rather be off reverting vandalisms and slaying other mighty dragons! Askari Mark (Talk) 03:49, 21 March 2007 (UTC)

Examples section

Desperately needs cleanup, probably just due to palimpsestuous editing over time. Put all constructed examples (other than bare numeric ones like 10² = 100 and the long number) in "quotes" so they can be instantly discerned from instructional text (e.g., "A large number such as..."). Explain with an intro the exponent example, which will otherwise "be Greek" to non-mathematically inclined/experienced readers, not to mention those who don't know what this formatting code really means/is. Old:

  • 10² = 100

New:

(Yes I know one of those is a redlink; there are at least five potential articles for the link target.)

Also, a conforming edit with above changes about spelling out non-paren. units being optional, and periods with units like "in." being permissible:

  • "The hippopotamus stands 1.5 metres (5 ft) at the shoulders and weighs between 2,700 and 4,500 kilograms (6,000–9,900 lb)." Or another acceptable variation: "The hippopotamus stands 1.5 m (5 ft.) at the shoulders and weighs between 2,700 and 4,500 kg (6,000–9,900 lb.)"
    • The [[hippopotamus]] stands [[1 E0 m|1.5 metres]] (5 ft) at the shoulders and weighs between [[Orders of magnitude (mass)|2,700 and 4,500 kilograms]] (6,000–9,900 lb). (First variation.)

Note the parenthetical clarification at the end of the indented bullet point. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 17:19, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

kg rather than k, perhaps? --AnonEMouse (squeak) 17:28, 16 March 2007 (UTC)
Fixed. Silly typo. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 19:05, 16 March 2007 (UTC)
The final form of the hippo example is pending decisions in some of the earlier sections whether units should be spelled out or abbreviated, and whether they should have periods after them. Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:49, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
Right. I made same observation about something else up there too. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 19:03, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
PS I love the word "palimpsestuous". Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:56, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
Credit where due: Grutness (talk · contribs) coined "palimpsestuous[ly]". — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 19:03, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
According to the OED, the correct adjective is "palimpsestic", but "palimpsestuous" is certainly funnier. Stephen Turner (Talk) 10:50, 19 March 2007 (UTC)
A delicious double-entendre indeed! Methinks Stanton has slipped from the tea to the sherry! Askari Mark (Talk) 03:53, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
That was last night, where my uproariously funny (to me, at that time) beer-fuelled editing wasn't helpful and seemed to tick off Gene seriously (so I apologized on his talk page directly). Anyway, as much as I would love to claim credit for "palimpsestuous", see the "Credit where due" line. Grutness (talk · contribs) came up with that one. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 05:24, 22 March 2007 (UTC)

De-geeking

I strongly recommend removal of "1 E0 m", "Orders of magnitude (mass)" (see hippo wikitext immediately above), and any other wild-'n'-wacky wikilinks of this sort. No one actually does this, and I think many editors would agree that it is a confusing and nearly abusive use of wikilinking. Personally I would revert that stuff on sight if I saw it in an article, unless the context were quite special and made such weird links actually make some kind of sense to the average encyclopedia reader. It comes across as really inappropriate über-geeky promotion of the 1 E0 m, etc., articles becase they would otherwise be near-orphans; i.e., basically a borderline form of canvassing and/or wikispam. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 17:19, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

Another reason for its removal is that such wikilinking of units of measure only contributes to overlinking and its concomitant diminished readability. Askari Mark (Talk) 18:40, 16 March 2007 (UTC)
Right on. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 19:06, 16 March 2007 (UTC)
I assume this is a relic of a time when people thought that linking in order to get all relevant articles into "what links here" was a good idea. We see the same thing in the old idea that all years should be linked too. I think most people now don't hold that view though: "what links here" is an expert feature, so doesn't help most readers; and the list you get from it is too long to be useful anyway; and excessive linking is now regarded as distracting. This is a long way of saying that I agree with the suggestion of removing them. Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:54, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
That brings up the unrelated problem of "What links here" having been rendered next to useless in many articles due to the proliferation of "navigation boxes" with hundreds of links, each of which appears in the what links here of every article in the box. Gene Nygaard 04:15, 20 March 2007 (UTC)

Wrap-up

I think that covers all of the points, but since the reversion of my changes was in the nature of a wholesale substitution, and some of the changes I'd made were to re-arrange the bullet-point ordering, the diff isn't the easiest thing in the world to read. I'm a little perturbed by the revert it all! response, especially given that the changes sat there all day long with not a single concern about any particulars being raised here or anywhere else. Given the number of people watchlisting this page because it's a major guideline, I think that says a lot about the value and logic of these changes. But, sheesh, even basic typo fixes were reverted. If one cannot take the time to actually examine edits and think about them, one should not be reverting things. But I won't editwar about it. I think the changes proposed make sense (though some could use copyediting) and thus I don't need to push them, just explain them and let them take their course. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 17:19, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

I'm sorry you took exception to my reversion. In general, I've found that be bold doesn't work well in the Manual of Style, because it affects all the other articles, and because people tend to quote it as gospel in edit disputes for years afterwards. Discussing it point-by-point on the talk page first is usually a better way to go.
As for the specific points, I think some of them are non-controversial, but some of them I'm sure I've seen heated arguments about on this talk page (abbreviations vs spelling out units, for example, or periods after American abbreviations). Also, there seemed to be some level of instruction creep: I'm always nervous when the MoS gets significantly longer.
I'm afraid I didn't have time to sort out which were uncontroversial improvements, and which changed the guidance, so I just reverted it all. Similarly, I haven't got time now to comment on the individual paragraphs, but I'll try and do so on Sunday.
Thanks for your work on this. I'm sure much of it will end up on the page in the end, but a couple of days later won't make any difference.
Stephen Turner (Talk) 17:32, 16 March 2007 (UTC)
Works for me; as I said on my talk page with you (I figure might as well summarize those points here, since this is the main thread), I'm not angry about it or anything, and expected some reversion, just a bit more piecemeal. Not a big deal. It results in a large super-thread on the talk page here, but that's what archives are for after all. I do however feel strongly that the very fact that the MoS is quoted like a holy book is precisely why these fixes need to be made and quickly; the problems with MOSNUM are causing real issues, like amazingly boneheaded edits that result in completely useless article text, on the basis of inflexible, prescriptive language in MOSNUM. NB: By "quickly" I don't mean "before Sun.", I mean "before April". Also, I'm perfectly happy to re-discuss old contentious issues. Sometimes this must be done. For an major example compare WP:N as it is today with how it read on Nov. 1, 2006, compared to how it read in May, 2006, and then see also its almost unbelievable predecessors at WP:NHIST. Wikipedia's presently rather (though not perfectly) objective notability criterion (prominenly cited in multiple reliable sources) got to where it was from ludicriously POV original formulations like "fame and importance" and weird nonsense like "actionability" through precisely that kind of process of rehashing old arguments. Early consensuses on the issues were frequently arrived at on the basis of faulty reasoning, no account for secondary effects, simply loudness and insistence, and/or the "tyranny of the majority". I see a fair amount of all four of these flawed process in action in the MoS (MOSNUM and elsewhere), and look forward to helping improve it. The main problem I see is a lot of (seemingly UK-leaning) prescriptivism that runs counter to both real-world style guides of enormous buy-in and actual WP editing practices, as well as conflicting with the long-established "truce" declared on WP betwen UK and US English. I expect some arguments to arise about some of those points. Hopefully the just plainly missing clarifications will be less contentious. And yes, I realize there's some instruction creep, example-itis and other copyediting issues in the revised material, but isn't there always? :-) — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 18:35, 16 March 2007 (UTC)
Wake up and smell the coffee. You have jumped in with a whole bunch of half-baked ideas, wading in and changing things you had no read comprehension of, something quite evident from the whole sections you have claimed to have "rescinded" above. Furthermore, that isn't even something that it is in your power to do, once the issues have been raised.
Faulty reasoning? That's certainly evident in a whole lot of your arguments.
Contrary to real-world style guides? Same thing.
Actual WP editing practices? You just ignore them.
There might be a couple of minor points in the whole mess of your suggestions that would result in minor improvements. On the whole, it is a bunch of poorly thought out, hastily and unilaterally implemented nonsense. Gene Nygaard 00:22, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
Wow, thanks for the blatant personal attack. Also, you needn't make the same horse-beating point twice in a row. Anyway, I don't feel that you've actually contraverted anything I'm still proposing with any level of convincingness. Just random assertions that seem to be your personal preference, esp. with regard to periods after American/Imperial units.SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 01:12, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
Recognizing that we are all participating in Wikipedia for the same core reasons, I hope we can more collegially come to a consensus on what to do about these MoS guidelines. I recognized when I wrote the suggested changes that they were bold and as I've said I expected reverts. They've happened and discussion is now ongoing, and that's a Good Thing. Going back to the form they once took doesn't seem very helpful here. I for one would rather discuss the proposals as they stand now, with new input from Askari Mark, Aluvus, MJCdetroit, Kevinkor2 and others. Moving forward instead of looking back. PS: I've also left a civility apology at your (Gene Nygard's) talk page in a further attempt to get past the tooth-baring stuff. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 19:32, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
Rome wasn't built in a day and neither was this section of the MOS. Any revision to this section should be done very carefully and in small doses. Editors of the MOS tend to be much more protective of it because it has bearing on so many other pages. So when you make a massive change to it, you should almost expect to have someone revert it all. —MJCdetroit 13:48, 22 March 2007 (UTC)
I understand that rationale much better now, and sorry if I stepped on toes. — SMcCandlish [talk] [contrib] 05:25, 26 March 2007 (UTC)