Toward A Nonarbitrary Calendar
by Aquadale Bitty, Chaplain, Generic Discordian Sect
Everyone knows the problems inherent with numerical calendars (well,
everyone except the people who don't know, and if you're one of those,
maybe you'd like to view the paper to which this is a rebuttal to find
out), but the Goode Pope Icky isn't like the rest of us who just sit
there and complain about it! No sir! He goes out and creates the Just
Say No To Round Numbers calendar (hereafter referred to as
Jusanotoronotation)! What a guy!
I hate to rain on your parade, fellow Discordians, but this calendar is
not the be-all and end-all of timekeeping. You see, in his haste, Icky
overlooked a flaw in his system similar to the base-10 problem. Yes
folks, the problem with letters is that they spell words!
Yes, the same people who fawn over round numbers will go gaga over
years that spell out words. In the near future we have the years CUM,
CUP, and CUT. These years aren't real big hazards, but what happens when
we get into years like WAR, RENAISSANCE, FINDESIECLE, and even
ITSTHEENDOFTHEWORLDASWEKNOWITANDIFEELFINE? We're right back where we
started, with those menu-eaters proclaiming all sorts of gloom 'n'
doom. What's even worse, people will start milking year
names for comic and/or dramatic potential, which is always good for
raising your blood pressure. Soon we'd have stuff like ``Hi, I'm Troy
McClure. You may recognize me from such films as In The Year
DEADLY.'' In short, Jusanotoronotation is a lot better (and more fun) than the
current numerical system currently forced upon us by the boring, but it
doesn't prevent people from attaching undue significance to certain
I have concocted many a calendar since this revelation, but none of
them are satisfactory to me. But never fear, I have come to a
conclusion. Observe the fruits of my efforts, or just skip to my
The Counting Backwards System: In which this year is x, next year is
x-1, etc. Doesn't work because the negative sign can be ignored; what's
worse, if x is a positive number, we have a year 0 which is clearly a
sign of total global destruction!
The Random System (Hail Eris): Not only does this defeat the point of
having a calendar in the first place, but patterns appear even in random
data. What's more, people are more inclined to attach undue value to
interesting data when said data was randomly generated than if it had
been determined, well, deterministically. I'm reminded of some dusty
tomes I was perusing recently, in which someone made a big hullabaloo
over a random word generator having generated the word ``fnord.'' It's
certainly not a big deal if I the somewhat conscious organism types it.
Fnord, fnord, fnord, fnord, fnord, fnord, fnord, fnord, baked beans, and
The Half-Random System: In which each year consists of a deterministic
part and a random part. Doesn't work because the random part can pretty
much be ignored, even if the deterministic parts are allowed to repeat.
The Overkill System: In which the only numbers assigned to years are
those with obvious significance. Hopefully people will begin to notice
that the world doesn't end every year. Looks good on paper but would be
impossible to implement, since any number can be shown to have
The Overkill in the Opposite Direction System: In which
Jusanotoronotation is used but word-years are cut out. Doesn't work for
the above listed reason; any string can be a word in some bizarre
language, and this is censorship besides.
The System of the Unknown Year: In which this year is referred to as
``this year'' and only after the year is over will it be decided what the
year's number/string actually was. I like this one, and it wouldn't be
too bad, but it takes away a lot of the flexibility of the date system
(i.e., being able to do date subtraction).
The Freakish Chinese-Type System: Basically Jusanotoronotation without
the letter stigma. This started out as ``Make up new symbols and use them
to keep time,'' but I like the following silly idea better.
Round up 30 or so animals. Use a cute little picture of the animal in
question to represent a digit. Have a looping point, and choose some
animals whose names begin with the same letters so as to discourage
reducing the pictures to letters (it'll all be fruitless anyway if there
are more than 26 animals, muahahahaha). So we'd say that this year is
Hedgehog-Squid-Tortoise or something (which actually contains the same
number of syllables as ``nineteen-ninety-six,'' and one fewer than
``thirty-one-sixty-two,'' so no complaining that it's too hard to say).
Another cool thing about this system is that people would have to draw
little pictures on their checks, and if we used a power of 2, say 32,
for storing the various animals, dates could be computer-stored fairly
easily. Having written date-handling code for those pagan Christian
dates, I can safely say it couldn't be much harder.
Now this last system would probably also work, but there's the danger of boring
Aneristic types eliminating the fuzzy-wuzzy animals from the system and
using the powers-of-2 system that would be used in computer code. And
also it's a lot easier to remember that the year after FTS is FTT, or
that the year after 3964 is 3965, than it is to remember that the year
after Buffalo-Shoggoth-Barnacle is Buffalo-Shoggoth-E. coli. Which, by an
incredible coincidence, leads into my brand spanking new theory:
The feature that makes calendrical systems useful is the very thing
that leaves them open to abuse by ignorant people!
[It's incredible! Come over to your local Fnord dealer and see the
theory! Free no hot dog buns for the kids!]
You see, the reason we have a calendar system in the first place is so
that we can keep track of time. Even if we have some weird abstract
calendar, people are going to say ``Hey, remember 4 years ago when Uncle
Henry got electrocuted?'' This is because numbers and number-like
systems do the best job at representing the way we perceive time. Time
line, number line.
Number systems and letter systems and such are easy for us to grasp.
The problem is that we also have so many other conceptions about numbers
and letters that if we're not careful, these other conceptions will
reach over and t(a)int our conceptions of time. Why do people get riled
up about odometer years? Because warranties are good for 30,000 miles
and not one millimeter more. Why would (this is a hypothetical question
for reasons that should be self-evident) people get riled up about word
years? Because they would mistake HORROR the year name with ``horror'' the
word. It's a case of projection; all the systems that we know well
enough to hang a date on have so much baggage already attached to them
that some mixing is inevitable.
Even if we could create a new system exclusively for dates and learn
how to use it, all systems have a basic built-in algebra. A symbol is
either the same as another symbol or it's not the same. Let's say that
the character % is now a squiggle with no meaning other than to be a
date placeholder. Even with all this in mind, the year %%%%% looks
In conclusion: No matter what we do (until we can refer to time
directly without the use of a metaphor, and possibly not even then),
people's instincts to find patterns in things will always cause them to
attach undue significance to undeserving dates.
If you'll recall, that was the problem that Jusanoronotation was
supposed to solve. So, now that Icky Fundament solved the problem and I've
(hopefully convincingly) unsolved the problem, it's time to throw the
problem out the window. Who cares if people think the world is coming to
an end on account of a critical mass of zeroes? That just gives us
another reason to make fun of people like that. And anyway, if we had a
system immune from outside interference, we'd hardly be able to have
holydays on the 5th and 50th of each month would we?
On a side note, I realized in writing this paper that there is a
five-step system of problem solving. I've only been able to identify
four of the steps, though (ask the question, answer the question,
unanswer the question, unask the question). I'm sending out a general
call for more research on this topic. I think there may be some
parallel with the Five Stages of Grief, but I can never remember those
either and I seem to be in Acceptance already on this