A 2001 bug - digital dates

Unfortunately, many people in these companies do not follow this standard and write dates as 12/04/01 or 12.04.01 elsewhere in letters and reports. From 2001, we have an extra complication. Let us suppose you have a project deadline just before Easter and you write 12/04/01? You know what you meant, but what date will your readers think you mean? Here are the possibilities:

In Europe, the day-month-year order gives: 12 April 2001

In the USA, the month-day-year order gives: December 4, 2001

Using the international ISO order, year-month-day, this gives: 2012 April 1

Historically, the year could be 1901 or 1912.

The solution to all this is to always follow the ISO 8601 standard for digital dates and systematically use the model yyyy-mm-dd or 2001-04-12 (i.e. 12 April 2001). It is stipulated in this standard that four digits should be used for years (i.e. 2001-04-12, not 01-04-12) and that dashes, not slashes or dots, are used to separate the units. If you have to give a time interval, a longer "em dash" can be used (i.e. 2001-06-01—2002-05-31). ISO 8601 only specifies digital notations and does not cover dates where words are used, which is another way to solve this problem (more about that in my next column).

Tricky words

damage, damages

Damage n. (Norw. skade/skader) means physical harm caused to things: "The damage to the house was considerable". There are four things to remember about using the noun damage:

1. damage always takes a singular verb and pronoun: "The damage is extensive" (Norw. skadene er omfattende).

2. damage is both the singular and plural forms.

3. damage can be used with the following words: "The damage/ some damage/ any damage/ a lot of damage/ considerable damage/ much damage....

4. damage cannot have an indefinite article immediately in front: "A damage" is always wrong.

If someone asks "What is the damage?" in an English pub, this rarely means how many glasses or chairs have been smashed, it is just an informal way to ask the barkeeper the cost of your pint or a round of drinks.

Damage v. means to harm or injure "The fire damaged the refinery". Though things are damaged, people are physically injured, though their reputations may be damaged. Machinery malfunctions or breaks down if the cause is internal. But machinery is damaged if the cause is external.

Damages (Norw. skadeserstatning) is a legal term for an amount of money claimed or received for injury or harm to a company's/person's reputation. It is not the plural of damage: "Following adverse press comments in The Sun, the company is filing a claim for damages".

Note that in American English, damages can be used informally about the cost of something: "What are the damages for the repair job?"

Enlightening English

"Dear Guts, In order to prevent possible fire damages we kindly ask you to consider the following rules". (Hotel, Rumania)

A researcher in petroleum engineering wrote a paper which at first sight was all about "liquid entertainment". It turned out that he had written "liquid entrainment", but Word's automatic correction was on and in a party mood.