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A colleague posted an online question recently about preferences for the BC/AD and BCE/CE calendar notations. It’s not a simple matter.

What you see most commonly is the BC/AD system developed in the sixth century by Dionysius Exiguus. BC stands for “Before Christ” and AD for “Anno Domini,” Latin for “in the year of the Lord.” The finicky about stylistics know that BC follows the year and AD precedes it.

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BCE, “before the Common Era” and CE, “of the Common Era,” identifying the same years as BC/AD, gained a vogue in academic circles in the twentieth century because the terms are neutral, not carrying any cultural freight of Christianity. The notation has not gained much traction outside those circles.

The Chicago Manual of Style lists both systems of notation (along with others less widespread) and comments, “Choice of the era designation depends on tradition, academic discipline, or personal preference.”

That is where it gets complicated.

BCE/CE notation recognizes that most of the world, along with a goodly chunk of the national population, is not Christian. It takes no sides, and I for that reason would not mind its general adoption as an acknowledgement that we live in a secular society populated by people of varying beliefs.

But any such advocacy immediately generates hostility from the people who bray about the imaginary “war on Christmas” and demand that society honor their traditional beliefs alone. They would insist that an attempt to achieve neutrality is instead partisan. Some people cannot be satisfied.

They would probably speculate that I am also friendly to that French revolutionary atheistic metric system.

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