Thursday, November 17, 2011


If that headline has led you to think you can find the great love of your life here, I am sorry to say that you are tuned to the wrong channel. I am sure that the photograph beside this essay will convince you that there is nothing for you here, unless you are interested in the way we measure time on calendars; that is what I mean by dating. But reading what follows will be like being on a "date"; you will need to keep your wits about you and concentrate hard on what is being said (though there will be no body language or subliminal signals to distract you).

In November it is customary to observe Armistice Day on the 11th of this month; it now goes by the name Remembrance Day (since 1946); in North America (since 1954) it is a holiday and it is known as Veterans' Day (on 11/11, and as in the USA's 9/11 for the eleventh of September, the month is the first figure, which is quite illogical). All these names indicate that it commemorates war and fallen soldiers; in fact it stems from the signing of the armistice (armistitium, "arms standstill") at the end of World War I, at 11 a.m. (ante meridiem, "before midday") on the 11th day of November 1918. An annual silence of II minutes should occur (that's two in Roman numerals, not eleven, 11 or XI). In 2011, the 11 o'clock national news on Radio New Zealand was preceded by a moment of quietness, but the vehicular traffic roared on out in the streets. By contrast, on the first Tuesday in November, everything stops in Australasia for the running and broadcasting of the Melbourne Cup horse-race; my bike and I then have the road to ourselves, as I do not gamble.

The 11th of November has even more significance for me, as it is the anniversary of the birth of my Kiwi granddaughter Amanda Colless  (her elder brother Adam was born on Waitangi Day, 6th of February, so it is easy for me to remember their birthdays; for the record, Nigel and Dawn are her devoted parents). A machine which thinks it can think (it is in America on the other side of the date line) has put the wrong day and date on this message;  I am actually writing this on the 18th of November in the year 2011 A.D. (that is, "in the year [anno] of the Lord [Domini] two thousand and eleven", or "twenty-eleven", short for twenty hundred and eleven). Amanda has had her 15th birthday celebrations (spread over a dozen days, as with Jesus and the twelve days of Christmas) and right now she is undergoing a surgical operation. Some other person will be having their birthday today, so my best wishes go out to them.

This year, Amanda's birthday could be codified neatly as 11/11/11, to be deciphered as "the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eleventh year of the twenty-first century, which is the first century of the third millennium of the current era". I refrain from saying "the 21st century A.D.", which makes no sense if anno Domini really means "in the year of the Lord"; but if it could be construed as "from the Lord's year" (from the year in which Jesus of Nazareth was born) it might work. The opposite of A.D. is B.C., which is not Latin but English, an abbreviation of "before Christ". However, there is now an international and inter-religion convention whereby we write CE (not Church of England but "Common Era") instead of A.D., and B.C.E. (before the Common Era") in place of "Before Christ" (which is not acceptable to Jews). Christians could still read it as "Christian Era", if they like. "Common Era" means "according to the dating system held in common". I prefer to say "current era".

Traditionally, on Remembrance Day, the silence descends in the first two minutes of "the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month". That is a logical progression, and that is why I say the American way (which converts 11th of September into 9/11) is perverse and confusing. Nevertheless, one of the three items in that sequence of elevens is incorrect: "the eleventh hour". November is certainly the eleventh month of the year, which has twelve months; the eleventh day is straightforward, but "the 11th hour" is backward, or not forward enough. Can you see what is wrong with it?

A similar confusion hangs around the ominous "11th hour", which is commonly supposed to mean the short time available before high noon arrives or doomsday begins. But stop to think about it: between the start of the 11th hour and 12 o'clock there is a total of 120 minutes, two whole hours. Can you grasp it? The 11th hour begins at 10 o'clock (this is undeniably true); and so at 11 o'clock which hour begins? The 12th hour, of course. The 12th hour, not the 11th hour, is when time is running out. When the clock strikes 11, it is signalling the end of the eleventh hour, not its beginning; 11.01 is the start of the twelfth hour, whether a.m. or p.m. Similarly, "23.00 hours"is the dividing line between the 23rd hour and the 24th hour of the day, which ends at midnight, which is not 24.00 but 00.00. When the big hand of the clock is on 12 and the little hand is on 1, it is showing us that the first hour has ended (all 60 minutes of it), and the second hour is beginning. Got it? (By the way, when I was a wee wee tot, and they would take me from my warm warm cot, to sit me on a cold cold pot, to make me do what I could not, namely weewee, I was in Balmain hospital for a tonsillectomy operation, that is how I relayed the time of day to an older boy in another bed; he could not see the clock, and although I knew my numbers I could not "tell" the time as he could, but that is how I could tell the time to him, by saying "the big hand is on ...".)

Do you remember the fuss about the millennium? I don't mean the vain hoping that this would be a century and even a thousand years of peace and prosperity, or the fear that our computers would not crash heavily on the first day of January 2000. I am thinking about the silly argument over when the 21st century and the 3rd millennium of the current era actually began.

Well, it was not a problem; there was no contest; the people (that is, everybody but me and a few fellow-pedants) who celebrated the arrival of three noughts, when 2000 came up, were toasting nothing, nought in triplicate, in reality. They had been accustomed to watching mile-ometers (and kilometer-ometers) and when 1999 changes to 2000 it's "jackpot!" and 2000 miles have actually been traversed.

However, with years on calendars it is different. The 10 years of a decade have not been fulfilled till year 11 starts, and year ten, the tenth year of the decade, has ended.

It is the same with birthdays. There is no year 0 (zero) in a person's life; the day of birth is 1/1/1, the first year of the first month of the first year. And so (without bringing in the date of birth of Jesus of Nazareth, which is not known, actually, not yet) the 20th century ended when the numbers 1/1/2001 came up, and the 21st Century and the 3rd Millennium began. (Incidentally, "20th Century Fox" then had a big problem with updating their title.)

Here are a few footnotes to the discussion. They could be brain-teazers

1 CE = ‘the first year of the current era’
1 BCE = the first year before the current era
but it is also the last year of the 1st Century BCE and of the 1st Millennium BCE
2 BCE = the second year before the CE
The 2nd century BCE begins in 100 BCE
The first day of 1 BCE is 1 January (1.1.1), not 31 December!
Only the years go backwards, not the dates within the years.

2001 CE is the first year of the 21st Century
and of the 3rd Millennium CE.
2001 BCE is the last year of the 21st Century
and of the 3rd Millennium BCE
2000 BCE is the first year of the 20th Century BCE.
The second year is 1999 BCE.

CE years:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 | >>>>>
11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 | 21 >>>> 1999 2000 | 2001
BCE years:
11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 | 21 <<<< 2000
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 | <<<<<<
Count by decades, also, to see the principle; centuries likewise.
BCE: the first year of the decade/century/millennium ends in 0 (zero) 
CE: the last year of the decade/century/millennium ends in 0 (zero)

In 2007 I  wrote another account of ancient dates, which says the same thing only different.

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