International Pi Day – bye bye American pi

Date_format_by_country.svgA day devoted to a mathematical concept is a great thing. But the one we’ve got – International Pi Day – feels like celebrating the abacus on a day devoted to computers. The 14th of March is only seen as Pi Day because of the United States way of expressing dates which has 14 March as 3-14. For the rest of us it is utterly meaningless. I’m sorry I’m being unfair, in addition to the USA, Belize and the Federated States of Micronesia use this ‘middle-endian’ way of expressing dates.

Almost all of the world expresses dates using the far more logical ‘little-endian’ approach of day-month-year which sees the 14th of March as 14-3. Which, of course, has nothing to do with pi.

Like so many ‘Americanisms’, this is in fact the way the British used to do things. Then in the early 1900s the British adopted the more rational system being used on the continent and it spread around the World. The Americans refused to change. So in that sense the approach to dates is exactly like their stubborn refusal to make use of the meteric system (beyond using it to define the units in their imperial system!).

There are efforts to have 22 July as a Pi Day outside the USA. Although I applaud the thinking behind the efforts, 22 divided by 7 makes some mathematical sense, it’s really a desperate stretch in that it’s not a way that most people think of pi.

The solution is simple. Let the Americans have their pi day, in the same way we tolerate their overt refusal to go metric. The rest of us should smile quietly and go on to have a day celebrating maths that makes sense. Because, really, there’s something disturbing in having an international day, devoted to a mathematical concept, that makes no numerical sense outside of three countries.


Now go, get off my lawn you whippersnappers.

Just by the way, what Pi Day does provide is an excellent opportunity to discuss logic, endianess, and how computers store information.

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