Re: millennial madness

Eric Watt Forste (
Mon, 13 Dec 1999 11:40:35 -0800

BTW, it's millennial, not "millenial".

Spike Jones writes:
> Ja. But I propose we declare one. The year 1 BC would be declared
> the year 0.

Astronomers have been doing this for a long time. Essentially, if you are looking at dates more than two thousand years ago, you must be aware whether you are looking at historical notation (in which 1 BC immediately precedes 1 AD) or astronomical notation (in which the letters BC are *never* used, but the year 0 precedes 1, the year -1 precedes the year 0, the year -2 precedes the year -1, etc.).

So the Julian year 4713 BCE is called the year -4712 by astronomers. (They often prefer a count of days to the traditional count of years anyway, as it makes computations simpler.)

> That would fix a problem that has made me crazy since always: the
> history scholars refer to the 16th century meaning the 1500s. Then
> ya gotta think: lessee, is that the 1500s or the 1700s? Oh yeah,
> OK. The 1500s *should* be the 15th century, dammit! {8^D

This is just the old conflict between unit-origin (Fortran stylee) and zero-origin (C stylee) indexing. Since we've been living with it for centuries before we had digital computers, and we now have digital computers which display the same multiplicity, we might as well just get used to it. Element 0 is the 1st element. Element 1 is the 2nd element. ;)

AD/BC is historical, +/- is astronomical. Take your pick and be consistent.

> The only thing that would be messed up are the BC dates, but we
> would get over that. Herod perished in 3 BC by the new reckons.
> But it would be a better, more logical system. spike

It already exists, and hasn't replaced the historical system, but flourishes alongside it. Try to get *historians* of all people to go against tradition, though? Heh. Good luck. If we had any chance of that, the lopsided, ugly, and bug-prone Gregorian calendar would have long since passed into obsolescence.