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July 4, 2007

Why "The Fourth of July?"

Happy Independence Day!

FlagYet while "Independence Day" is a very good name for a holiday celebrating the separation of one country from another, most Americans refer to this holiday by its date, as "The Fourth of July"-or, indeed, "The Glorious Fourth," though the latter has fallen out of common usage.

Not only don't we do this with other holidays, but the most common way to refer to a date in American English is to say ;June first" or "December 25th," with the month first and the day second. This reflects the fact that only Americans write their dates in month/day/year order.

European countries, notably including The United Kingdom, use day/month/year, writing the date in ascending order of unit size. This is known as "little endianness." "Big endianness" involves writing the date with the year first and the day (or time, if included) last, and now forms the ISO 8601 standard used by computers and an increasing (albeit still small) number of nations.

So why "The Fourth of July," which actually reflects the British way of writing dates? My feeling is that, like much Britishism, it sounds more formal and thus helps to indicate that the day is special. It's the kind of phrasing you see on wedding invitations.

Nevertheless, there are and always have been people who say "July Fourth" instead of "The Fourth of July"-just not as many of them. Google returns 11,000,000 hits on a search for "Fourth of July" and only 826,000 for "July Fourth."

But whatever order you choose to say it in, we hope you enjoy the national holiday today!

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Posted by William Lozito at July 4, 2007 9:11 AM
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1 Comment

Thanks for the comments on saying and writing dates. As a person who has lived in teh USA but now lives in Australia I understand the thinking about writing dates. I do not agree that there is a link between saying Fourth of July and writing 07.04.2007. They are quite separate. What you say and what you write are much more loosely connected. I know I write one way and speak another way.

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