|This page in a nutshell: This essay provides a rational argument for refusing editors who insist on an article complying with WP:STRONGNAT. It encourages editors to ignore WP:STRONGNAT when writing date formats for article content because the guideline is flawed, based on fallacies, inconsistent with other more consistent policies and guidelines regarding style and content formats, often promotes edit-warring and hostility, alienates and undermines the sense of global community that Wikipedia seeks to achieve, and arguing about date formats tends to be a needless waste of time.|
As an American of cosmopolitan sensibilities who consistently uses DMY date formats (largely due to the accidents of my education, long periods of taking up residence abroad, and continued foreign travel, work, and interactions), I find the insistence on obeying WP:STRONGNAT as rather offensive and exclusionary. The editors who insist on WP:STRONGNAT compliance forget one thing—it is merely a guideline, a recommendation, a preference. It is NOT a policy. It is NOT a rule. It is only a suggestion trying to impose a semblance of order among many entirely valid and acceptable options.
With an appeal to WP:STRONGNAT as an authority, some editors find it necessary to insist on changing date formats back-and-forth from dmy to mdy. All too often this minor content dispute takes the appearance of a "my way or the highway" pronouncement. For someone who dedicated considerable time and effort to an article, it's easy to take offense when some interloping gatecrasher shows up to jam WP:STRONGNAT compliance down your throat. It's even worse when (looking at that gatecrasher's contributions) their only apparent reason for living is change DMY to MDY and vice versa while screaming "per WP:STRONGNAT."
Yes, it really does irk many editors when someone else's only contribution to Wikipedia is repetitive minor bullshit format changes. Those types are held in the same contempt as smug, self-satisfied Grammar Nazis who correct pronunciations and verb tenses while you're trying to talk to them. When that happens, we like to tell those types "don't be a jerk" and express our disagreement and contempt with other choice colourful metaphors.
Additionally, I have found that the WP:STRONGNAT recommendation is based on a fundamentally flawed analysis that is fostered by some blatant falsehoods and misconceptions. Demanding compliance with this guideline only perpetuates them, when correction of the guideline's flaws is in order. Further, WP:STRONGNAT openly contradicts or is inconsistent with other policies and guidelines regarding article consistency (as if Wikipedia were ever consistent, sarcasm) When in doubt, it is always best to ignore all rules and ignore the persistence of those who insist on dubious rules. This essay establishes a rational case for why an editor's insistence on complying with WP:STRONGNAT should* be ignored.
- See notes on the meaning of should below.
- 1 Examining WP:STRONGNAT
- 2 Misunderstandings, misconceptions, and false premises
- 3 WP:STRONGNAT promotes exclusion and segregation
- 4 Reactions
- 5 Conclusions
- 6 See also
- 7 References
What WP:STRONGNAT really says
WP:STRONGNAT is a redirect to Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Dates and numbers and his essay specifically concerns the merits of compliance with section entitled "strong national ties to a topic" regarding the formatting of dates in articles on subjects that assume certain national standards.
The chief logical failings of this guideline is that (1) the policy hinges on the use of "should" which implies a number of perfectly acceptable options; and (2) the policy unfortunately hinges on an editor subjectively applying their understanding of "strong national ties" which is no where officially and objectively defined on Wikipedia. In fact, given the nature of the beast, such an absolute one-size-fits-all definition would defy any attempt to create it.
What are WP:STRONGNAT flaws?
- It is not a rule. It isn't even a policy. It's a guideline. It is nothing more than someone's statement of preference, a recommendation, a suggestion. With a nod to Wallace Stevens, it's just an "idea of order" that never arrives at order.
- WP:STRONGNAT's intentions are inconsistent or directly conflict with the intention of several other policies and guidelines.
- Most style guides move toward the international DMY format.
- With globalization and stronger international ties, English and its various formats are sharing from each other—with Americans engaging and adopting foreign styles, formats, and quirks just as much as foreigners love adopting all things American.
- It assumes that Americans are monolithic in their choice of styles or formats. Speaking from experience, Americans are a quirky, inconsistent bunch.
- There isn't a consistent, objective definition of "strong national ties" and the mere fact that someone is nationally an American doesn't establish a "strong national tie" to a particular style or format.
- The guideline hinges on the words "should generally". Should does not mean "must."
WP:STRONGNAT is inconsistent with other policies
Wikipedia's policies and guidelines are often inconsistent, and sometimes blatantly contradictory. Dismissing these inconsistencies and contraditions is only possible if one focuses on the internal coherence of the article which is what policy attempts to do. After all, with a nod to Wallace Stevens, the idea of order cannot be raised without the specter of disorder.
As editors we are asked to exercise common sense in contributing. Without sufficient objective definitions, because of internal inconsistencies, common sense has to wade through a world where WP:RETAIN, WP:ARTCON, WP:DATERET, and WP:STRONGNAT do not provide a consistent course of action because of their competing language. Comparatively, WP:ENGVAR and WP:CITEVAR focus on the need to avoid edit-warring and subjective preferences by maintaining one format if it is consistently applied in an article. WP:RETAIN, which focuses largely as an adjunct to WP:ENGVAR, encourages an article that is already consistent to maintain that internal consistency, emphasizing:
In general, disputes over which English variety to use in an article are strongly discouraged. Such debates waste time and engender controversy, mostly without accomplishing anything positive.
When an English variety's consistent usage has been established in an article, it is maintained in the absence of consensus to the contrary.
It establishes few exceptions to this, including claims of "strong national ties", but absent any objective definition of that specific phrase (one that is beyond a mere assertion stating someone's ethnic or national category) this is a specious, unactionable "exception"—and an exception that has the unintended consequence of inconsistent application.
Absent an objective definition, and without one consistent, unequivocal course of action within the policies and guidelines, the best course of action is to focus on making an article internally consistent and ignore the conflicts and contradictions between these policies. If that internal consistency ignores WP:STRONGNAT, so be it.
Lastly, Wikipedia emphasizes that petty disputes over minor issues of style and format is counterproductive and wastes time that we can be spending to improve the encyclopaedia's content and outreach. In fact, insistence on minor issues of style take us away from the greater goal, and negatively promotes edit-warring, instability, accusations of ownership, incivility, outright hostility, and failures in assuming good faith.
Ask this before insisting on WP:STRONGNAT compliance
- Have I contributed anything to this article?
- If no, you should really assess whether an article's contributors are going to listen to you, and whether it's worth your fight.
- Is the article currently being worked on by other editors?
- If "yes", contact them.
- Is the article already consistently using one format or another?
- How is a switch from one date format to another going to make an article less confusing and more accessible?
- "March 5, 2013" is just as accurate, clear, and unambigiuous as "5 March 2013." If I go to an article on Goethe and see his date of birth rendered as "28 August 1749", I am still going to understand it as an American reader. If it were rendered "August 28, 1749" a German reader would scratch his head for a moment at what American played with the date, but he or she would still know that Goethe was born on the twenty-eight day of the month of August.
- what is the basis for which you're asserting a "strong national tie"?
- If your argument amounts to a claim of "the subject is an American and Americans use MDY", it is not sufficient. It is about as unconvincing an insufficient as saying "the subject is a cat and cats use MDY." By that logic alone, an article on a German citizen should be written in German...strong national ties...as if only Germans read articles on other Germans, Americans on other Americans, cats on other cats.
- Why do you think it "must" be changed?
- Is the world going to fall apart if an article about an American writer uses DMY or an article about a German engineer uses MDY?
Misunderstandings, misconceptions, and false premises
The meaning of "should"
WP:STRONGNAT is a guideline with several conditions that must be examined, especially with regard to the policy pivoting specifically only the modal verb should. "Should" embodies an intermediate degree of deontic modality which is a linguistic modality that connotes a speaker's degree of requirement or desire for a specific object.
The word should denotes and connotes one option among many valid and exercisable options. "Should" is to be compared with the usage and context of verbs denoting and connoting requirement or mandate, such as "will", "must", or "shall" with those verbs that are unconditional stating possibilities or option while lacking obligation, like "may" or "can". "Should" is generally regarded as an option or course of action that is recommended, preferred, or suggested, among many available options or courses of action that are possible but that it is not required, forced, compelled or mandated. Several style guides present the distinction:
- "The word should is used to indicate that among several possibilities one is recommended as particularly suitable, without mentioning or excluding others; or that a certain course of action is preferred but not necessarily required; or that (in the negative form) a certain course of action is deprecated but not prohibited (should equals is recommended that)."
- "SHOULD: This word, or the adjective "RECOMMENDED", mean that there may exist valid reasons in particular circumstances to ignore a particular item, but the full implications must be understood and carefully weighed before choosing a different course."
Therefore, "should" lacks a strong obligatory force and only expresses a recommendation implying equally or comparatively valid options, not a rigid mandate.
The meaning of "strong national ties"
In order to establish "strong national ties" you have to be able to say something more substantial than claiming "He's an American." That simply isn't a sufficiently cogent argument. The requirement is for a claim of a "strong" national tie. Not just a national tie.
I would venture to say that an objective definition for "strong national ties" is impossible. A person's self-identification is rarely "one size fits all" even within a larger context. Because of this fundamental flaw, there is no rational basis for insisting that WP:STRONGNAT overrides other considerations.
Albert Gallatin was an American politician and the longest-serving Secretary of the Treasury. He was born and educated in Switzerland, spoke in a heavy Swiss accent throughout his life, spoke German and French more than he spoke English. He emigrated to the United States to escape instability and violence the French Revolution and served his adopted country. However, it is arguable whether he ever considered himself "strongly" American—especially when his Swiss roots kept interfering with his complete assimilation, and often hindered or prevented his pursuing opportunities during the course of his life.
One prime example that defies an insistence is "strong national ties" is an article I've worked on. Unfortunately, I had to choose the lesser of several evils when trying to describe the modernist poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926) who can be considered ethnically a German-speaking Bohemian (or the inaccurate but least-problematic "Bohemian German"), in a time when "Austrian identity" was coalescing, but he resided in an Austrian empire that wasn't ethnically coherent as "Austrian" and neither was it "German" despite its German trappings, heritage and institutions. Further, when the Germans put together an empire in 1871, they did not think German-speaking Austrians to be German enough to be part of it. Rilke was maternally Jewish, raised Roman Catholic, and his ancestry was Czech, Polish, and generally Slavic—and the colloquial German he was raised speaking was inflected with Slavic influence and peppered with non-German vocabulary. He didn't identify with any of these categories. How do we treat the issue of Rilke's "strong national ties" when he eschewed all such means of identification.
Further, there are articles that discuss me and some of my contributions to knowledge (don't ask, I won't tell—I'm actually not happy with it. But in the interests of COI, I won't do anything about it). I happen to be an American although I use DMY dates and often employ British English orthography and vocabulary (e.g. "colour" instead of "color", or using "lorry" instead of "tractor trailer" or "commercial truck"), WP:TIES states clearly: "For articles about modern writers or their works, it is sometimes decided to use the variety of English in which the subject wrote (especially if the writings are quoted)." Despite being an American, WP:TIES provides a formal "piss off" to anyone looking at these articles who might try to claim that my simply being born American is cause for insisting on American styles/formats.
MOS is only a recommendation
Each part of the Wikipedia Manual of Style (MOS) has a template which identifies it as a guideline and advises that an editor "use common sense in applying it; it will have occasional exceptions." It is meant to drive the encyclopaedia to "achieve consistency in the use and formatting of numbers, dates, times, measurements, currencies, and coordinates" within articles in order to avoid text that could possibly be "misunderstood" in order to make content accessible to the wide variety of users (i.e. different languages, idioms, etc.)
According to the Manual of Style page:
Style and formatting choices should be consistent within an article, though not necessarily throughout Wikipedia as a whole. Where more than one style is acceptable, editors should not change an article from one of those styles to another without a substantial reason. Edit warring over optional styles is unacceptable.
Policies and guidelines are generally to be followed, but with the understanding that they are generally not rigidly-enforced rules. WP:GUIDES advises us that "Editors should attempt to follow guidelines"—again, that pesky modal verb "should" rears its ugly head. Thankfully, it says they are "best treated with common sense." Comparatively, a policy describes "standards that all users should normally follow"—again should.
We're told to be "plain, direct, unambiguous, and specific". In this vein, the word should was chosen on purpose. That purpose is to the benefit of maximum inclusion. Mandates and rules are exclusionary. Rigid insistence on rules is all the more exclusionary.
Americans aren't consistent
Winston Churchill, the British prime minister who happened be half-American, knew the Yanks best and succinctly observed, "Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing after they have exhausted all other possibilities."
If there's one thing consistent about Americans, it is that we are an inconsistent people. Eventually, Americans will get it right.
Heck, 40 years later and we cannot even decide whether to fully adopt the metric system. Americans stuck between two systems—a system that we've inherited from tradition despite its internal inconsistencies and hard-to-convert units of measurement, and a system that the rest of the world uses that's rather logical and easily converted between units. Even then, the Americans call it the "standard system" while the rest of the world calls it the "Imperial system." So, 5% of the world uses it and it's a "standard"...what gives?
Americans can't spell. We can't even decide whether to use a slash or a dash when writing dates. Few of the modern generation and their public education cannot tell the difference between it's/its, your/you're, there/their/they're, discrete/discreet, lie or lay, etc., In a land built on merit, none of them are to "the manner/manor born." Spellings, formats and styles, are but one of the many ways that Americans persist in being quirky, inconsistent, and nonconformist. Anyone who insist that there is one American style has never explored the possibilities of barbeque.
- All of these are in frequent usage: The Fourth of July, July 4th, 4 July 1776, July 4, 1776 the fourth day of July in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred seventy six. However, if you want to become an American citizen, the forms seem to consistently require DMY.
- The American military uses DMY and variants of DMY in its documents. Should an article on an American Navy Captain who later went into politics use DMY based on his military past, or MDY based on a claim of "strong national ties" being a politician?
- Americans who are more cosmopolitan interact with people in the rest of the world and pick up their style.
- Many American businesses, especially ones that operate globally, tend to use DMY, and often house style guides reflect that choice. Do all American businesses? No. Do some? Yes.
- American government forms and documents use both MDY and DMY, but when billing the government as a contractor, invoices are formatted YYYY-MMM-DD
However, when it comes to enforcing a standard format or style over the English language, it has largely been an arbitrary effort throughout history.
DMY is more frequently and increasingly used
Wikipedia policies and guidelines have established for consistent reasons that there are acceptable date formats and unacceptable date formats. However, because of the international nature of the project and its inclusive purpose, there is and ought never to be any policy that directly states absolute, mandated preferences amongst the acceptable date formats. There is no one house style in this regard for a reason—to foster and continue welcome contribution independent of national or ethnic lines.
Instead, "should" (as discussed above) is where this pivots.
The facts remains:
- ISO 8601 was created because there were 14 different date format standards. Now, with ISO 8601, there are 15.
- DMY format is used consistently by a majority of the world by a factor of more than 10 to 1. (DMY vs. MDY: 3.2 billion vs. 310 million). MDY format, like America's insistence to refuse completely adopting the Metric system is a fluke. It only confuses the 95% of the world that isn't American.
- Many countries in Asia use ISO format, but when engaging the English-speaking world or the rest of the global community, they tend overwhelmingly to prefer DMY.
- Oh yeah, for the sake of disclosure, Belize joins the U.S. in preferring MDY. But then again, America joins the like of Burma (Myanmar) to avoid the metric system. Strange bedfellows.
- Since 1980, DMY usage is on the rise in the US.
- Several style guides (including MLA and Chicago) emphasize a preference for DMY.
- Major companies (ones that tend to engage the whole world) prefer it. The fact that Microsoft and Google did not for several years happened to piss off a lot of non-Americans.
- It's little-endian.
- One of the biggest complaints/requests to US software manufacturers is "Please allow for non-US date format". Apparently, they forget periodically that the rest of the world exists and might be interested in their products.
WP:STRONGNAT promotes exclusion and segregation
WP:TIES which establishes the concept of national ties cautions editors that it "should not be used to claim national ownership of any article."
We must continue forward recognizing Wikipedia is a global phenomenon and aims to be accessible to people around the world. Likewise, English has been a unifying phenomenon throughout the world. Initially English became the lingua franca because of Britain's imperial hegemony and later America's military and economic might, but recently because of its role as the modern medium of communication, trade, and community. The English-language Wikipedia is the largest and most-referenced because of the ubiquity of English in the global community.
Insisting on "strong national ties" seems to be entrenched in nineteenth-century prejudices, and seems counterproductive to the increasing growth of connections and relationships in the global community. While it is a valid assumption that American articles should use an American style and European articles a European style has the unintended consequence of reducing accessibility and possibly alienating both readers and contributors. If we begin insisting on idioms and national styles, the result is a latent jingoism that increases tensions within what is otherwise a coalescing global community.
Corporations, governments, and people, because of the progress of globalization at the end of the twentieth century, together, have made considerable strides in tearing down the nationalistic walls that separate us. Wikipedia has done the same on the premise that information is universal and should be readily accessible irregardless of the nationality of the reader or of the contributor. There is no exclusively "American information" any more than there is "Indian information" or Armenian, Russian, Persian, Brazilian or German information. There is just information, and we all benefit by participating in sharing it. To insist on national styles undermines the progress of stronger relationships across the international community and runs counter to Wikipedia's cosmopolitan intent.
While we are all to be proud of our ethnic and cultural origins, it is inherently offensive to claim that ethnic or cultural origins imputes a right of an ownership, a supremacy, or the insistence of a style or format that trumps the contributions of others.
Accusations of "Ownership"
It's quick for someone insisting on WP:STRONGNAT compliance to respond to another editor's refusal by accusing them of exercising "ownership" over an article. However, insistence upon WP:STRONGNAT often takes the appearance of someone else's attempt to steal ownership.
Often this trite insult is an attempt to exaggerate because it's more inflammatory to accuse an opponent of something seemingly dirty and unacceptable as "ownership" when it simply is a passionate "stewardship" (See WP:OAS).
Accusing someone of ownership seems to be the Wikipedia equivalent of Godwin's Law, akin to the old tired rhetorical tactic in political argument where a liberal decides to demonize a conservative opponent as a "racist," or calling someone a Nazi, just because they disagree.
The moment you accuse an editor of "ownership" you've lost the battle and you likely don't have a solid, cogent argument.
Flinging hyperbolic accusation of ownership around functions like a thought-terminating cliché--an attempt to use a loaded word or expression to dismissing dissent or opposition or "quell cognitive dissonance." Nothing like an insult or accusation to draw attention away from a bad argument.
Mostly, the insistence on policy is an attempt to exercise power over others—sometimes it is a psychological projection of power by the weak against people who may be smarter or more able to them. That the abilities or intellect of seemingly more able editors oppresses lesser editors. It's over-compensation behaviour and latent sabotage...the fear that the guy with the bigger dick gets all the girls and that you'll never measure up. By accusing another editor of "ownership" it makes those editors feel good for butting in with their insistence, that their insistence is an accomplishment because it beats down the guy who accomplished something by working on the article. It's the behaviour of crabs in a bucket pulling down a crab that is close to climbing out, or the behaviour of gnats that become such a nuisance that they chase away bigger animals (including other insects) away from a food source.
At the same time, an editor who has contributed to an article usually likes to see their work preserved against anything they think undermines the message or content they sought to convey. They get defensive. Some editors really put their heart and effort into an article. Respect that, and act accordingly. Instead of barging into the room with your ideas and expectations, which is more often than not the cause of the defensive or hostile reaction—find another way to approach the situation. That's why Wikipedia has talk pages.
If you can't argue a few of the salient fundamental points discussed herewith, you shouldn't insist on WP:STRONGNAT compliance.
If you contributed, your opinion would be considered
Sure, we all volunteer our time and skills differently. I will be the first to state that everyone has a right to contribute to an article. But know your place. If you've never contributed anything to an article, and other people are contributing content to an article, do you really think that showing up all of a sudden to insist "hey, use MDY, not DMY" deserves being listened to? That's like going to a Michelin 3-star French restaurant and insisting that the menu be changed to sushi and cheap tavern pizza. It's like coming into someone else's house and demanding they repaint their bathroom.
Be respectful of other editors and their work—especially, if their contribution somewhere is significantly more substantial than yours. The party's hosts, security guards, and gardeners tend to hate gatecrashers—and rightfully so.
Wikipedia doesn't like edit warring over formats...and when there's a disagreement, it specifically says "defer to the style used by the first major contributor." Such debates waste time and engender controversy, mostly without accomplishing anything positive. If you're not the "first major contributor," without substantial reasons it's entirely acceptable and justifiable that your arguments fall on deaf ears.
Is it really worth your time?
I actually assert that this is a valid reaction. We are here to write an encyclopaedia and share knowledge. Our time is best appropriated in contributing worthwhile content. Arguments take editors away from contributing content. Arguments are rarely worth your time. Arguments of petty insignificant issues are definitely not worth your time.
Don't pick fights. We all have better things to do. Use your time wisely. Wikipedia benefits (as will its the average reader) moreso when we focus on the content and avoid getting mired in the bullshit.
Jimbo reminds us to "Remember what we are doing here. We are building a free encyclopedia for every single person on the planet.". We are here to share information. If we find ourselves bitching about insignificant format and style changes, we really should reevaluate what our true contribution here is.
I like contributing content. I only care about contributing content. You should, too. The way I write, the format I use, is part of my contributing content. If you want to interrupt that, the onus is on you. There is already more than enough bullshit that keeping people from contributing (i.e., rules, administrators)—that is why we are told to ignore all rules.
However, if you insist on WP:STRONGNAT compliance, I can assure you I will not like you. That "will" is a stronger verb than "should."
This an essay, so take it for what it is worth and "don't be a jerk"
- Wikipedia:Ignore all rules
- Wikipedia essay
- Wikipedia:Policies and guidelines
- Wikipedia:The difference between policies, guidelines and essays
- Wikipedia:Tendentious editing
- "Section 13.1: Shall, should, may, and can" from IEEE Standards Style Manual
- Bradner, Scott. (Network Working Group, Harvard University). RFC 2119: "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels" (March 1997). Retrieved 10 October 2013.
- A great work on the development and hegemony of "Proper English", see: Lynch, Jack W. The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of 'Proper' English, from Shakespeare to South Park (New York: Walker & Company, 2010). ISBN 9780802777690
- Jimbo Wales to Boothy443, 16:49, 26 August 2005 (UTC)