Thursday, April 17, 2014


There has been much talk about this being Palindrome Week, in which the dates of the days read the same backwards as forwards. The only problem with the idea, of course, is that it depends on a specific date format, and not all people record the days in the same way. (I am restricting this discussion to the CE calendar*, of course; those who count their years as Anno Mundi or Anno Hegirae, or in the Saka Calendar, or others, will have completely different understandings.) It relies on the month/day/year notation style, the reduction of all items to Arabic numerals, and ignoring punctuation. The assumed common practices are not in place, even within the same year-numbering.

For example, the order of notation is flexible. Not all people would write today's date as 4/17/14. I do not in this webspace, counting the days as a single number listing the year, then the month, then the day--a notation style I borrow from now-retired professor Dave Sebald of the University of Texas at San Antonio and find quite useful in keeping digital records. More common is the dating style I recommend to my students in their writing and citation, the international norm of listing day, then month, then year; such notation calls today 17 April 2014 or, if numbers are to be used, 17/4/14. Neither the international style nor my blog-dating is palindromic; 20140417 and 71404102 are not the same, nor are 17/4/14 and 41/4/71. Indeed, both refer to a date that cannot exist in the current CE calendar; the year, we may reach, but there are no forty-one day months and there is no forty-first month.

Again, assuming that the dates of the days are palindromic requires that all parts of the days be reduced to Arabic numerals--and that the numbers be somewhat truncated. Above, I write the date as 17 April 2014; its reverse, 4102 lirpA 71, makes blasted little sense, so keeping the wording in place prevents a palindrome from being possible. Too, calling today 4/17/14 neglects the century and the millennium, and while they change rarely enough that setting them aside can be perhaps forgiven, I am one who remembers the panic about the first digit of the four-digit number of the year changing. (I am still amused by it, in fact.) Fifteen years is not so long a time to have forgotten the way people acted in their folly, particularly when seeking to avoid further folly.

Too, and perhaps it is only because I teach English that this attracts my attention, reading the date as a palindrome means that the non-numerical marks in the notation--the punctuation--must be ignored. Going back to the assumed-to-work notation, 4/17/14, and reversing it with all the marks that must be made in place produces 41/71/4. The divisions of the numbers change, and forty-one does not equal four, nor seventy-one seventeen, nor yet four fourteen. Even at a simple, taken-at-a-glance level, the palindrome idea does not really work out. Added to the more substantive faulty assumptions, it suggests that those who trumpet the "palindromic" dates in place may do well to look a bit more closely at what it is that they do and say--as we all ought.

*CE, or Common Era, does line up with the Dionysian and Gregorian systems of year-numbering, and so it retains overtones of a long-held Christian world-view with which many will take issue. The problem with the BC/AD notation, however, is that it ostensibly takes the Nativity as Year 1, but the Nativity took place in a different year. BC/AD is inaccurate by its own logic, but the numbers have been in use for so long that it would be impractical to go back and "correct" them all--hence a justification for retaining the number and changing the label. Admittedly, though, there are still colonialist attitudes embedded in the thing...It seems there is more that needs fixing.

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