The word "date" appears to be ambiguous. What is the answer to the question: "What is the date today?" Is it "18th" or "18th November 2016"? I am looking at date ambiguity from the point of view of structuring information for computer processing. What are the components of a date? date = (year, month, date) ? I cannot use this as the definition of date cannot contain date as a component. Can I use some other name for the component? Can it be date = (year, month, day) ? There is ambiguity again... What is day? Is it a number or a week day? Can anyone suggest a different name for this component that is unambiguous?

closed as off-topic by Drew, alwayslearning, Hot Licks, tchrist Nov 19 '16 at 3:16

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  • Welcome to English Language and Usage. What is your definition of ambiguity? – user140086 Nov 18 '16 at 16:31
  • Ummm, "Friday," "the 18th," "20161118," "November 18, 2016," "11-18-16," "18-11-2016," etc. We need more context to offer an answer. Please edit your question. – Mark Hubbard Nov 18 '16 at 16:31
  • After your edits, you might want to go to one of the other Stack Exchange sites. I suspect the Software Engineering site (softwareengineering.stackexchange.com) has discussions on formal language for expressing dates in software. – John Feltz Nov 18 '16 at 18:45
  • "Day" is often taken to mean "day of the week". To assure you get the day of the month you must spell that out (or else provide a prototype such as "YY/MM/DD"). – Hot Licks Nov 18 '16 at 20:21
  • And here I thought you were going to talk about: “What is the date today?”. “Today we are featuring a Ramadan date from Israel paired with a vanilla bean ice cream...” – Jim Nov 19 '16 at 4:05

If you need to treat the date as three separate elements but also need to work with the name of the day as a fourth element you could refer to the number of the day as "day of month" and the name of the day as "day of week".

If you are just naming variables these could be "mthday" and "wkday" or something similar. Alternatively you could insist on an eight digit format (yyyymmdd), take substrings for elements of the date and let a date function calculate the day of the week. It all depends on the context and the environment in which you are working.


In casual conversation, I assume that you already know that the year is 2016 and the month is November; I don't need to give you more information than "the 18th".

If you're involved in something more technical or formal, then the answer to "On what date did the Empire of Japan attack Pearl Harbor?" is "December 7, 1941." Or "What's the date-stamp on that file?" is answered by "2012-08-23"


It seems to me that the meaning of date is ambiguous in much the same way that the meaning of name is in the question "What's your name?" In the latter case, the answer might be "John Beresford Tipton, Jr.," "John B. Tipton," "Tipton," "Mr. Tipton," "John," Johnny," "Jack," "JBT," or even a nickname like "Moneybags." To ensure that we elicited the answer "John Beresford Tipton, Jr.," we might need to ask for the person's "full name (first, middle, last, suffix)." Evidently, date is far from unique in being susceptible to multiple interpretations.

In any event, if we wanted someone to provide a date that included values for month, day, and year, we might take our cue from the "full name (first, middle, last, suffix)" example and ask that the person identify the "complete date (month, day, year)" [or "complete date (day, month, year)" in the more common UK style]. I am not aware of any shorter way to make this request that the vast majority of readers are likely to understand instantly.

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