Wednesday, September 28, 2005


One of the many delightful things about blogging is the truly international reach of the Internet. I vividly remember a moment somewhere in the early Nineties marveling at the realization that my Macintosh, running Gopher, had just called up a file hierarchy on a computer at a university in Helsinki, and wondering guiltily who was footing the long-distance bill for it. Somebody had to be -- you don't just talk to Finland like that without a whopping phone tab.

Not that I pore over them like a Bible Code simp drooling over Leviticus or anything, but I do take the occasional glimpse at my StatCounter logs, and I've noticed that despite my best efforts I have a heartwarmingly international readership. You guys know who you are -- give yourselves a hand! Got your Aussies, lots of Canucks, Brits, Kiwis, S'th-Africans, plenty of English-speaking cousins. I've also noticed that there's a rather surprisingly (and very thrillingly) sizeable number of folks from non-English-speaking countries too. I assume you're expats and such, yearning for hearth and home under slowly revolving ceiling fans as you get falling-down fractured on stengahs at Raffles, because this ain't exactly the place you'd start trying to practice your new language of English. We tend to get a little playful around here, to the detriment of the most rigorously correct Received American English.

Maybe you folks can help me understand something.

As far as I'm aware, we Yanks are the only people using the Gregorian calendar who express our dates in the form month-day-year; in every other country I've been in (a few, let's say), it's expressed day-month-year, frequently with the month written in Roman numerals.

Which is why I'm wondering why the Day of the Recent Unpleasantness is called Nine-Eleven even by people from the day-first countries. I can't understand it -- is it out of deference? Is it because you're just being nice, granting us our eccentric, nonstandard taxonomic quirk because, well, lots of people died and it just wouldn't be polite to get into a big argument over calendar formalities just now?

If that's the case, I think you're being far, far too polite. The mystical appeal of "Nine-Eleven" derives from the fact that that's the number we in the small-r republican US have settled on as our universal Emergency Phone Number. Many a Yank has died puzzled because he tried to pick up a British phone and call the fire department and 911 didn't summon them. The correct number to call in Britain -- and many other countries as well -- is 999, which won't fit in anybody's Calendrical Mysticism, there being no months with 99 days in them.

I guess I'm bothered by the idea that "Nine-Eleven" has become a shorthand for a bottomless reservoir of symbolism and automatic, reflexive emotional associations, a thing that's so fraught with meaning that "the terrorists were responsible for 9-11" is used as a justification for the most idiotically disastrous war my country has ever embarked on. It's become, in short, a brand name, a thing used to sell the Iraq War to the people paying for it, and I (and, I imagine, a lot of you) would like to see it subverted.

And that's where you, my international friends, can make a difference.

My suggestion: Insist on calling it "Eleven-Nine," just as your own national conventions dictate. Boy, that'd confound a lot of people who desperately need some confounding. Imagine -- just by gently insisting on the rightness of your own nomenclatural convention, you remove at one blow "Nine-Eleven's" mystical associations. You'd also strike a major blow against the notion of American Exceptionalism, of linguistic hegemony, of cultural imperialism. Strike a blow for Relativism.

Come on! Who's with me?


Anonymous said...

As an Englishman I always refer to it as The Eleventh of September - will that do?

Depressingly, most of the UK media seemed excited when they realised they could label the recent London bombings "the seven-seven bombings"

I always wondered about that really *really* crap British boyband 911. Did they name themselves after the US emergency number or after a model of Porsche sportscar? Regardless, it was a stoke of luck that they disbanded in 2000...

Jeremy said...

As another vaguely English person, I've always tried to refrain from referring to IT by any name. On the other hand, I've also never heard a 'Murcan refer to the emergency number as nine eleven. It is always nine one one.

Not that any of that matters.

Uncle Rameau said...

oh, man, I am so with you...

I always scratch out the boxes on forms where dates are entered to use the format 2005 09 29, which has the advantage of sorting mathematically.

I remember reading somewhere that this is the international standard for scientific publication, and it works great on spreadsheets.

and don't get me started on metric conversion, which most merkuns view as alchemy or spellcasting or some such blasphemy...

American exceptionalism still obtains, at least with regard to the trivial.

Anonymous said...

We are NOT with you.

Why do you hate freedom?

Bobby Lightfoot said...

Who cares?

Delay is FUCKED.

jedmunds said...

oh like the emergency phone number. Sure that makes sense. Cause I was totally thinking it was like because it's similar to 7-11, which are totally ubiquitous.

Derryl Murphy said...

Wait a minute: there isn't a month with 99 days in it? Then how the hell do you explain January?

FWIW, we Canucks do the month-day-year thing as well. Except for when we don't.


Anonymous said...

I just couldn't resist looking up "the american media" after I picked myself up from the floor having landed there in a fit of hysterical laughing at the dumb "why do you hate freedom"? (When did you stop beating your wife?) Hey, Buddy- Foxy News reads your blog! Rupert knows you by name!!! Hats off! Too bad they're so inarticulate. Anon