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Pet Peeve of the Day: Standard Time?

Monday, May 15, 2006, 16:14 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

I work for a company whose policy it is for employees to change their outgoing voice mail messages every day. “This is So-and-so, today is Monday, May 15, and I will be in the office until 5:00.” That sort of thing. Because we’re on the east coast and many of our clients are in different time zones, most of us include “Eastern time” in our outgoing messages so that someone in, say, Oregon will know when they leave a message whether or not they’re likely to get a call back the same day.

My current peeve is people who insist on saying “Eastern standard time” now that we are in daylight saving time. Granted, this isn’t a big issue here in the Eastern U.S. time zone because the whole zone goes on daylight saving time. It used to be that the part of Indiana that was in the Eastern zone stayed on standard time, effectively putting them in Central daylight time for half the year, just as most of Arizona essentially joins Pacific time for half the year. That that is no longer the case here. If you’re in the Eastern time zone, you’re on daylight saving time today. Why, then, do people insist on saying “standard time”?

It’s likely that most people don’t realize what the “standard” in “Eastern standard time” means. What it doesn’t mean is that it’s the time that most or all of the zone is using at that moment. It also doesn’t mean that we vary from Greenwich Mean Time by whole hours, though we do, as opposed to a few places offset their time by 30 minutes (Afghanistan, Iran, India, and parts of Australia, to name a few, plus the Canadian province of Newfoundland, according to this site). “Standard” means that the time zone is based upon the true solar time at the prime meridian, the line of longitude that passes through Greenwich, England. If it’s noon in Greenwich, then the time in most areas of the world will be on the whole hour. The Eastern time zone is five hours earlier than Greenwich Mean Time, which means that when it’s high noon in Greenwich, it’s 7:00am Eastern standard time or 8:00am Eastern daylight time, depending on the time of year.

My outgoing message says “Eastern daylight time” or sometimes just “Eastern time”. Someone who doesn’t get the distinction between standard and daylight time won’t think twice about it, but to the rest, however few they may be, it will be clear that I don’t work in some renegade city that passed a resolution to eschew daylight saving time.

For more information, see Wikipedia’s pages about standard time and daylight time.

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