Sunday, April 13, 2008

Identification of years

How many people actually know that there is no year zero on the common Western (Gregorian) calendar. This creates logical problems that are hard to deal with in the lay population. Most people assume an understanding and use of zero. I would even catch myself thinking in terms of having a year zero had I not known a little more about our calendar than the average bear. Bottom line, on our calendar, the year 1 BC is followed by 1 AD.

Just as there is no year zero, there is not zero century. Our 21st Century is 2001 to 2100. The last year of the 21st Century is 2100, not the first year. That's fairly counter-intuitive. This does force me to think when I talk about periods in the 16th through 19th Centuries. It is very easy to think that 18th Century is the same as the 1800's.

So, there is no year zero, no matter how confusing that ends up being. Until we choose another calendar system, this will be a contentious issue.

Another point to discuss is how to identify years. The most common method for years counting backward is B.C., and A.D. for our current era (years that count forward). These two abbreviations refer a previously accepted date for the birth of Jesus Christ. It is now commonly agreed that if Jesus Christ did exist, his birth was more likely between the period of 8 and 4B.C. This means the start year of our calendar is pretty arbitrary, as it is not associated with any particular event. Yet, we still use terms that directly reference Jesus' birth. Alternative terms that have been proposed are BCE (Before our Common Era) and CE (our Common Era). This turns the arbitrary date away from being Christian centric, but in a way, it still attempts to enforce that old world calendar on others. I see BCE/CE used more frequently these days, but I do not believe it will ever become the norm.

To accept the arbitrary nature of our calendar and to establish some Information Age standard, those Europeans have come up with a supposed standard ISO-8601. This document is meant to be an international standard, but isn't really in common use. The problem with ISO-8601 is that is renumbers the years that count backwards. 1BC becomes 0000 and 2BC becomes -0001. Unless every history book ever written is updated to this new attempt to renumber the years, I doubt ISO-8601 will ever be in common use by anyone other than software programmers.

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