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My name is Bob Land. I am a full-time freelance editor and proofreader, and occasional indexer. This blog is my website.

You'll find my rate sheet and client list here, as well as musings on the life of a freelancer; editing, proofreading, and indexing concerns and issues; my ongoing battles with books and production; and the occasional personal revelation.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Still waiting

Some folks shouldn't try to think too much. I'm probably one of them.

I'm working on the third edition of a book. The second edition had a timeline dating from 6000 BCE to 2006. For the third edition, a new group of editors swooped in at the last moment and made some updates. The headline for the new timeline reads "6000 BCE to ACE 2008."

Ummm . . . what?

A few different thought processes went into this.

1. "Well, we said BCE, so we need to set it off with whatever its parallel would be."

2. "We are aware enough that if we were to use 'AD,' it would precede the date rather than follow it." (For this I give them two points.)

3. "If BCE appends the first number, then it would make sense that ACE would append the second number."

Well intentioned, huh?

I asked the in-house managing editor about this when I saw it, and per told me, "Before the Common Era and After . . ."

I'm ashamed to say I didn't let per finish the thought before "No, no, no" came out of my mouth. Can I occasionally be a jerk? Yes, indeed.

If you're new to all this, BCE/CE is for folks who want to deChristianize our modern Western calendar system. Instead of BC (before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord), you use BCE and CE (for Before the Common Era and the Common Era). How this helps, I've never really understood, because you're still defining the "Common Era" by the singular event of Jesus of Nazareth's birth, which isn't universally heralded, to say the least.

Once we get past the general confusion about Jesus perhaps actually being born in 4 or 6 BC, which I'm not even sure the calendar shifts can account for, we can begin to wonder about what "After the Common Era" might mean. I'll give you a minute or so to ponder this phrase.

. . .

Anyone want to venture a guess when the Common Era might have come to a close? Elvis on Ed Sullivan? Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis reunited on the Labor Day Telethon? Hendrix playing the Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock? Any freaking minute now?

Has anyone else ever seen ACE? Have I totally missed the boat? I've been corrected before, so I'll take my lumps again.

But wait. I just found this. There appears to be some slight precedent, but at least one person agrees with me. See post 5 of 19 and the replies.


Would someone with some sense chime in here? Moi? Don? Chip, you ever seen this?


PS: One of my favorite jokes. You might need to live in a relatively large population center to understand it. I'm not sure it would get many chuckles here in Bristol:

The Jewish calendar is now at 5769. The Chinese calendar is at 4706. What did Jews do for 1063 years without Chinese food?


Don said...

I've never seen ACE. As far as I know the counterpart to BCE is CE, for all the sensible reasons you explain. Mindless use of abbreviations is something that used to drive me crazy. I lost the war on "PIN number" and "ATM machine" some time ago, and now I just chillax about it.

As a side note, I think that once you dispense with the Latin of anno domini, there's no need to put CE before the date. Just don't make no sense anymore.

czar said...


Thanks for the confirmation. I'd hate to see this creep into usage, simply because it is prima facie absurd. What actually makes more sense, in some twisted way, would be ABCE (After Before the Common Era). If, in the parlance of the times, the Common Era had already ended, I suspect my cat would have been raptured by now.

moi said...

Why the fork do we want to de-Christianize ourselves anyway? Believe. Don't believe. I don't care. But you can't deny that the Judeo-Christian tradition and the assumed divinity of Jesus Christ largely defines who we are in the West. Deal with it, people. And keep AD and BC and quit fiddling with everything.

Same goes for this abbreviating shit. Although I must admit a genuine luv for WTF because it keeps me from using the F-word in all it's potentially insulting glory (nonetheless, sniff, a mighty fine word), pretty soon, we won't need words at all. We'll just grunt and point and text.

moi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
czar said...


When I think of what largely defines us in the West, I think back on the book I read about missionaries in some Asian islands backwater. They'd been there for some years, doing their good works, and time came to see if their efforts had resulted in their charges receiving the good news. So, essentially, the missionaries ask the assembled what's the most important thing in life and what are the missionaries' lives based on. The answer they got: money. That's the example the missionaries had been setting and that's where their focus had been. And these weren't even the colonializing types of missionaries. Needless to say, the missionaries received quite a wakeup call that day.

When it comes to AD/BC, as a non-Christian, it doesn't particularly bother me, but if you're just gonna use the same damn numbers with BCE and CE, then what really has been achieved? All you're doing is acknowledging the obvious, which you point out. It's like saying, "Don't think of blue!"

Don said...

Oh, I don't know. It seems like a reasonable compromise to me. It preserves the system we're all familiar with and gives academics (who else uses BCE/CE?) a fig leaf's distance from mainstream religion. Let's be thankful the days of the week are named for Norse gods instead of saints, or we'd have to worry about changing those too. And then the next thing you know all our social security checks will be sent out on the fourteenth of Brumaire.

Just don't make me switch to the metric system. You'll take my yardstick from my cold dead hand, etc.

h said...

I thought the joke was pretty funny.

czar said...


Thanks for checking in. But trust me on this one: not everyone would get it. I live in an area where I was once asked to explain Judaism (well, as best I could) to a class of eighth-graders, and one of the questions was, "Could my son still have children because he'd been circumcised?"

The concept that most Chinese restaurants in MSAs of over 1 million people would shut down without the support of the local Jews is as foreign to many as Judaism itself.

Maybe if I'm still sucking air by September, I'll post my favorite (and perhaps world's only) Rosh Hashanah joke. I've got one about mohels too, and that's the end of my shtick.