A Leading Zero as the Hero: A Simple Solution to Confusing Date Formats

Receipt Scanning Challenge

photo credit: Wesley Fryer via flickr CC-BY-4.0

People fall under just three categories when it comes to date formats. You can’t sit on the fence or be dodgy with this one. You’re either of the month-day-year, year-month-day, day-month-year, or year-day-month persuasion.

Given how some store receipts and products with a limited shelf life do not use anything but numerical equivalents for the month instead of the more intuitive three-letter abbreviation (some still use two numbers each for month, day, and year), it’s downright annoying to figure out if 12/06/03 means that your partially consumed jar of peanut butter expired on Jun 12, 2003, Dec 3, 2006, or Mar 6, 2012.

#typography leading zero

photo credit: MatchTheHatch via flickr CC-BY-4.0

Dates (especially expiry dates), should not be open to interpretation. Think of the historical accuracies that would result. I’m going to segue into a discussion about significant figures, a topic that was the very lightly touched upon in Grade 11 Chemistry, and had me scratching my head about its real-life importance, which is “each of the digits of a number that are used to express it to the required degree of accuracy, starting from the first nonzero digit” (thank you Google, for that definition).

The specific significant figure I’m referring to is the leading zero. Ian Fleming popularized it by adding two of them to his most famous agent’s callsign. Unfortunately, he didn’t popularize Agent 007 well enough for universal standardization.

Now I am going to propose that we add a leading zero in front of the two-digit number normally given to the month, standardize on a four-digit number for the year, and keep to the two-digit number for days. So no matter where you like to place your month, day, and year in a date format, you’ll know that a three-digit number equals months, a four-digit-number equals year, and a two-digit number equals day.

010-09-2013 = Oct 9, 2013  |  05-012-2002 = Dec 5, 2002  |  2009-03-001 = Jan 03, 2009

I’ve leave it to the programmers to actually implement the proposed date format, and financial analysts to justify the costs. The Year 10000 problem will not be my problem, but hopefully, by then, humanity will finally be using stardates instead.


2 thoughts on “A Leading Zero as the Hero: A Simple Solution to Confusing Date Formats

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