It's still not a Freedom Tree -- and it's AD, fercryingoutloud!

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2007/12/21 10:16 -05:00, original URI:

There are many things that I am thankful for.

When it comes to Unicode,one of them is the simple fact that the CLDR (Common Locale Data Repository) is managed by a separate technical committee, not by the UTC within Unicode, as well as its own mailing list....

Why, you might ask?

Well, because all of the silly season issues that I talk about here from time to time from the Unicode List seem tame to me compared to the kinds of issues that come up in CLDR-type conversations!

Of course, just as radiation sometimes leaks outside the nuclear power plant where Homer Simpson works, there are times that the subjects spill outside of the CLDR users list and we see them brought up in the Unicode List.

Like recently, when Ed Trager re-raised an issue that has come up many times before:

Hi, everyone,

For the Gregorian calendar in CLDR, two --and as far as I am aware only two-- era terms are defined:
     BC - "Before Christ"
     AD - Anno Domini (="year of the lord")
Is it really the case that these are the only two era terms available in CLDR?

While these two era terms quite naturally arose from the fact that the Gregorian calendar was promulgated by the Christian church, many --myself included-- will now argue that these two terms should be supplanted by the completely secular terms, "CE - Common Era" and "BCE - Before Common Era".

While there are many grounds on which one can argue in favor of "CE" and "BCE" over the traditional "AD" and "BC", perhaps the simplest and least divisive is the simple fact that the two terms "BC" and "AD" are not accurate, since most religious historians now believe that Jesus of Nazareth was born sometime between 7 and 4 BCE.

Given the now world-wide use of the Gregorian Calendar as a secular standard for measuring dates in every realm of endeavor beyond the Church, it seems uncharacteristically anachronistic that the CLDR defines only these two era terms:

   => At the very least, these two terms need to be supplanted by the modern, secular terms, "CE - Common Era" and "BCE - Before Common Era" This should be done immediately.
   => In the very best case, the anachronistic terms "BC" and "AD" could be removed from CLDR altogether.

However, I --and I am sure many of you also-- realize that it may be too much to ask for the outright removal of the anachronistic terms "BC" and "AD".  So rather than argue about removal of "BC" and "AD", can we at least all agree that "CE" and "BCE" need to be added to CLDR as soon as possible?

Note that in some locales, use of "Common Era" and "Before Common Era" is already well established. For example, the Chinese already use the term "公元" which means "common era" and "公元前" which means "before common era".  So, for the "zh" Chinese locales, we may conclude that the "values" are already correct, but the "keys" are wrong.  However, in many other locales, translations of --or customary equivalents for-- "BC" and "AD" naturally enough continue to reference the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

The addition of "CE" and "BCE" to CLDR will greatly facilitate the efforts of localization specialists who wish to produce localized software and electronic services for the widest possible audiences without having to worry about offending anyone whose religious beliefs and preferences may differ from those which have been traditionally dominant in the Western world.

Best - Ed

He then got to see another 30+ messages come up as people started arguing the point.

And boy did people argue the point! :-)

The one amusing point related to the use of eras that indeed had some interesting technical relevance in the formatting of date strings was brought up by Michael Everson, who mentioned:

Actually the usage of BC and AD is problematic, because it is meant to be AD 2007 but 54 BC. For the other abbreviations, 2007 CE and 54 BCE are both usual.

This really puts a cat among the pigeons for the uses of date format strings making use of the eras one gets from DateTimeFormatInfo.GetEra and DateTimeFormatInfo.GetEraName. There is really no such differentiation here, or alternate naming scheme....

But the underlying complaint about BC/AD always seemed silly to me, even the first time it was explained to me while I was being raised as a Jew that BC/BCE were preferred to BC/AD.

Um, this was for the Gregorian calendar, that so many "Protestant" and well basically non-Catholic countries did not pick up until as long as two centuries later since its secular benefit over the Julian calendar (fixing the drift caused by the Julian year being a tad too long) was ignored due to the specific religious benefit (keeping the date of Easter from drifting further and further).

Eventually everyone got over it and just let it be, which was probably good.

Of course even as a pre-teenager the alternate names for the eras seemed silly, since the calendar was called the Gregorian calendar, named after the pope who put the change through.

Insisting that the Gregorian calendar named after a Roman Catholic pope and at least conceptually (if not literally) centered around the birth of Jesus of Nazareth not have era abbreviations suggestive of Jesus is a bit like insisting that pigs (which are fundamentally not kosher) be properly slain according to Jewish ritual Kashruth laws.

Reminds me Matthew Perry's "What, no Jewish prayer before our ham and cheese?" or less famously though in a less bombing sense like my own Maybe it's a Freedom Tree? diatribe.

Who exactly are we all kidding here?

Now to the extent that Jews would historically look at an event around that time being a division between eras they would probably be more likely to look at the destruction of the second temple which would be much later in that first century. If they were to decide for such a division.

But if the decision is made to not go to such an extreme, then why not just leave the era names as they are? It isn't a Freedom Tree, and it isn't the Common Era.

As we speak the thread continues, and also continues to drift.

And I still never managed to find anyone interested in that 7.5 foot GE EZ-Light Mountain Spruce with a few boxes of ornaments. I'll have to try putting it on EBay next year....

This post brought to you by B (U+0042, aka LATIN CAPITAL LETTER B)

Dean Harding on 22 Dec 2007 1:14 AM:

Besides, I'm sure if you asked the average person on the street what "AD" or "BC" actually stood for, I'm sure most people wouldn't have a clue (maybe they might know "BC" but I doubt many people would know "AD"). If you asked people "what is the Gregorian Calendar" you'd get equally blank faces, I'm sure.

It kind of reminds me some of the more pedantic policies on Wikipedia: you *HAVE* to use "CE" and "BCE" because that's "politically correct" (or is that "religiously correct"?). You also *HAVE* to use "MiB" "GiB" and so on, because that's "unambiguous".

Michael S. Kaplan on 22 Dec 2007 2:10 AM:

I vaguely recall that surveys have shown lots of people think it is:

Though since that would leave the 30-odd years in the middle they would have to add:


Jeroen Ruigrok van der Werven on 23 Dec 2007 1:12 PM:

The problem with BCE and CE is that the C could as easily be understood as Christian. Same problem again...

John Cowan on 22 Oct 2010 8:53 AM:

Originally "CE" was read as "Christian Era", but as more and more non-Christian cultures adopted it, it was retconned as "Common Era".

I like it.

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