I before E, except after the Common Era

Sometime between the year I was in third grade and right this second, history changed. Or at least the way we refer to history in published works. Or at least the way certain politically correct, forward-thinking secularists would like us to refer to history. And I’m all for the secularists – you know, those bleeding-heart, pro-evolution, tofu-eating, antiestablishment heretics. Or whatever. Actually, I don’t know who decided this change was a good idea. I’m not even sure how I feel about it. But I ran into it at work, and I decided I needed to write a wordy, rambling blog post about it. Lucky you, reader. Here’s the change:

The Chicago Manual of Style, in its Numbers chapter (9.38, specifically), lists as the top common way to designate an era in the Western world…

CE: of the common era
BCE: before the common era

I swear, honest to Pete, I’d never run across this until last week. What happened to AD (in the year of the Lord) and BC (before Christ)? I’m guessing I know why the Christianity-laced method isn’t at the top of the list. And in all fairness to CME, AD and BC come in a close second. However did I get to be 36 years old and never heard – or at least never paid attention to in any meaningful way – this CE, BCE business?

There are too many acronyms in the world, anyway. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that, in the last decade or so, we dumped the periods from these era abbreviations. Change. Not dealing well with it. You?

I don’t care how we refer to hundreds and thousands of years ago. I really don’t. But this is just one more thing I have to cram into my memory. Honestly, I fear that I may run out of room up there. Maybe I could ditch some other meaningless grammar or style rule to make room. Like, I’m sure there is information in my head about use of ellipses or formatting footnotes that I don’t really need in my everyday world.

Then again, how common is “before the common era” anyway?

If you haven’t had enough of this flashback to English class/J-school, you could read along with me as I geek out with a book I’m borrowing from our work library. I’m on chapter two of Lapsing Into a Comma: A Curmudgeon’s Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print – and How to Avoid Them by Bill Walsh, copy desk chief, Business Desk, the Washington Post.

Hey. Hey!!! WAKE UP!!!!!!


Mary said...

Guess where I learned about "common era": my Catholic high school! How's that for progressive? I learned from a nun to eschew the religious method of counting time. Ha!

Except, I've never actually seen BCE and CE in use anywhere else...do they really use that at Pearson?

Amy said...

The only time I encountered it so far, we did what any good editor would advise...

We wrote around it. :-)

Brianne said...

This is why I go with the AP style every time. Those Chicago-ans are nuts, I tell ya.