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What year is it?

We are, of course in mid-2011, reckoning the number by counting from a point mistakenly calculated as the year of the birth of Jesus Christ. The years before that we identify as B.C., “Before Christ.” The years after that point we mark as A.D., “Anno Domini,”* “in the year of our Lord,” taking care to use it as a prefix: A.D. 2011.

Over the past forty years or so, it has become increasingly popular to use an alternative labeling, “C.E.,” for “Common Era,” and “B.C.E.,” for “Before Common Era.” Though you will not see them much in newspapers or magazines, they have become standard in academic writing. They are handy because they are neutral and secular. Everyone has a calendar—Jews and Muslims have their own numbering, and some people have gotten nervous about the Mayans.** “Common Era” says that this is the numbering we all use now for convenience, believers and non-believers alike.

Nothing escapes politicization anymore. If you use “C.E.,” some people unfamiliar with academic practice will be puzzled, but some will accuse you of secular humanism and hostility to Christianity, and you will be understood to participate in a conspiracy to undermine the Faith.

Here’s a thought: Give it a rest. “C.E.” harms no one, and since many believers get the other method wrong, writing “A.D.” as a suffix, maybe they shouldn’t insist on it.


*Anno domini has also come to be used jocularly in the sense of “age” or “passage of time”: “I used to stay up all night drinking and talking with friends, but now anno domini has caught up with me.”

**Since we are the current imperial power, with our legions stationed at the periphery of our sphere of influence, we could call this year 2764, dating from the supposed founding of Rome. I offer this as a mere suggestion.



Posted by John McIntyre at 9:56 AM | | Comments (8)


I've used both the CE and the AD systems in academic papers.

But what bothers me about the CE system is that it's just a redressing of the AD system; and further, designating it as "Common Era" implies a universal acceptance/imposition of the Christian dating system (in a new dress). It's not really a universally accepted dating system anyway. Nepal, both officially and in practice, uses the Bikram Samvat calendar (in which it's current year 2068).

So I've gone back to using AD; it seems more honest than CE, since at least it's not shy about its origins. That said, I don't blink an eye at the use of either AD/CE.

I like the Roman based calendar suggestion. Or we could go back to a "regnal" system, e.g. "in the third year of the presidency of Barack Obama".

I'll go with the Roman calendar, but you'd have to add AUC (ab urbe condita or Anno Urbis Conditae).

"...designating it as "Common Era" implies a universal acceptance/imposition of the Christian dating system (in a new dress)":
BeSlayed, I understand that the 'Common Era' numbering is not as universal as it seems to claim, but I do see it as an improvement over imposing a reference to 'Domini' on those who do not recognize that Lordship, in all good conscience.

By way of rough analogy, I view it as an improvement, overall, that marriages no longer have to be solemnized by churches. The purposes of marriage are wide, being civic and legal as well as sacred.

People are still free to seek a religious imprimatur for their unions, but they need to realize that imposing such a thing on all is actually contrary to their interests. (Does the world need more hypocrites?)

These people may be unhappy that their church is not universal. For better or worse, that ship has sailed.

I'm all too familiar with academic practice. Most of the world, thankfully, is not part of the Academy. I'll stay with B.C. and A.D., as long as A.D. is placed properly. I do like "ab urbe condita," just on general principle.

AD/CE would make a good name for a band, don't you think?

My favorite band name was a group called "Dow Jones & the Industrials." Honest.

It is, of course, year 219 of the French Republic. We know who those revanchists are who aren't using the new calendar, and believe me, you'll get yours.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to have a bath.

Whilst Marat bathes - better lock that door - I am off to pick up my knitting. (Why, during the French Open, does no one mention the importance of Tennis Courts in French l'histoire?)

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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