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September 11, 2007



Probably Amis is trying to promulgate the "Arabs invented zero" myth. The numeric zero used in Europe originates from Indian (Jain) texts and later in the influential book Al-Jabr wa-al-Muqabilah, from which the word Algebra comes, which was, as we all know, written by a Persian.

The system the superceded the Roman method of counting became known as "Arabic numerals" due to Islamic Arab culture conquering first the Persian empire, and then the Iberian penninsula, and spreading the information into Europe thus.

Tom Freeman

I think the "Eh?" is more to do with why Amis decided to devote the first seven paragraphs of his piece to discussing the abbreviation '9/11'. That was my reaction, anyway. The rest's not too bad, though.


Amis explains why he chose to open his article with numbers and dates, here:

"The above, I suggest, is a very minor parable about the herd instinct: the herd instinct and its tolerance of nonsense."

And like any metaphor, it is not perfect or a point-by-point analogy. The fact that the numerals are Arabic in origin adds dramatic irony.

Here we have an Arab Islamist culture which makes war on reason, the very culture that gave us the tools for the accurate study of structure, relation and quantity, in other words, for expressing reason in its purest form.

That the attribution of the invention of the numerals may be wrong adds another wrinkle to the irony, possibly unintended.


The American way of abbreviating a date as Month/day (or Year/month/day) is better than the British approach, because it orders the days as they should be ordered. Place the following dates in order, from earliest to most recent -- 20050612, 19950704, 20010911. You just need to treat them like numbers. We spell words better too, like color or humor. Fewer key-strokes. And everybody should play baseball.


Dom; the banks up here in the Great White North, have mandated (pun intended; ...) that cheque formatting is to be DMY with the year as four digits. This apparently to simplify electronic banking, no small measure as a result of the Y2K kerfuffle.
My word processor (Lotus/IBM) offers me three options,MDY...DMY...OR your fav. YMD. Curiously, not often seen.

Mick H

Year/month/day? The American way is month/day/year, which makes no sense. Anyway, Americans don't do irony, so that makes us better than you.

And while we're on the subject, what's with calling autumn "fall"? Why not go the whole hog and call spring "grow", summer "hot", and winter "cold"?



the US use of the word "fall" is because when the English arrived in the US that is what they called Autumn. The term was replaced by the French-derived Autumn in Britain, but the US have kept the original English term.

So on that point the Americans are correct, and we are wrong.

In a similar way, there are US accents that are probably closer to 17th century English accents than many accents in the UK.

Mick H

Yeah well, I was, um, being ironic, wasn't I?

Jim Miller

I guess I will have to go back and try to finish the essay. I have to admit that those first paragraphs made me think that he had nothing of importance to say.

On the writing of dates: In the "Elements of Style", Strunk and White recommend this form: 12 September 2007. I like it better than any alternative I have seen, which is why I use it on my site.


The Arabs do not use the same symbols for decimal numbers as we do in the west


Thus the Arabic notation for 7/7 would be rendered "V/V", except that assumes they use the Gregorian calendar. Of course 9/11 is rendered "9/11" given that the only two symbols that do coincide are nine and one.

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