I've been struck by the mismatch a couple of times when British people have tried to "go American" and put the day after the month. In one case, it was The Telegraph on complained-about Americanisms on the BBC. One of these was July 5. And I thought: but Americans hardly ever say July 5. We write it, but in the context of a sentence we'd pronounce that date as July 5th. Not It's on July 5, but It's on July 5th.
The same happens in BrE. People write 5 July, but they pronounce the 5 as the ordinal version: fifth. People don't go about saying "My birthday is five July". So, I've never understood: when people complained about July 5 on the radio, had they heard someone say July five, or is that their way of writing that someone said July fifth?
It happened again today, when @BoswellAffleck forwarded to me a tweet in which someone else wished Americans a "Happy July 4". Maybe the tweeter was saying that to himself as July 4th, but if I were to write it, I think I'd write "Happy July 4th", since it's in an expression that's addressed to some particular people; not a fact of when something happened, but the name of a day. July 4 might be what I write at the top of a letter, but if I put it in a phrase like that, I think I'd have to write the th in order for it to look like it sounds.
|Trumbull's The Declaration of Independence (1819)|
It's OK to wish someone a Happy July 4th (especially if you're trying to save characters on Twitter), but it's still not super-idiomatic American English. The holiday that falls on that day has two official names: Independence Day and the Fourth of July. In wishing people a happy one, it's clearer to use the name of the holiday.
British folk sometimes ask me about the Fourth of July. If Americans write the date as July 4 (and 7/4 when expressing the month as a number), why is the fourth in front of the month in this case?
They probably ask about that one in particular because they don't hear all the other times Americans say the date that way. But we do have and use the option to say other dates that way too. My Englandiversary is on the 6th of January or January 6th. I could say either, but the 6th of January sounds more formal to me. The formality might just be due to the length of it--and maybe particularly that definite the. The is something of a marker of more formal English.
At this point, a table might be a good idea.
|July the 4th||legal contexts||yes|
|4th July||--||yes [but more written]|
|the 4th July||--||yes [but more written]|
|the 4th of July||yes||yes|
I used the Corpus of Contemporary American English and the British National Corpus to check on these (though I used *th instead of a particular number and June instead of July, because the holiday's name would skew the results)--and that's how I found the "legalness" of [month] the [ordinal] in AmE: all of the examples seemed to be from courtrooms or reporting on legal matters, as in "the evidence will prove that Kato last saw the defendant on the night of June the 12th at 9:35 at the latest".
In general, the table shows that each national dialect wants to do something "extra" if it puts the date on the "other" side of the month from that which it occurs in writing the date numerically. If the date is put after the month in BrE, it needs a the. If it's put before the month in AmE, it needs a the and an of. These extra words are marking these expressions as 'not the default way to express the date' in those countries.
In British English, dates like the 4th June are written much more than they're said. More often the pronounced version has the of in it. Not only does the of help to avoid the ambiguity between 'the fourth day in June' and 'the fourth June in a series', it gives the date a nicer melody: spoken English doesn't like to have two stressed syllables in a row. The of breaks up the stressfest.
How did we end up putting the day on opposite sides of the month? It's one of those where American has the older form. It says July 4, 1776 at the top of the Declaration of Independence because that's how people wrote dates back then. Putting the date before the month came to Britain in the late 19th century, influenced by other European countries. (I'm going to assume "especially France", because British English loves nothing more than a bit of Frenchifying.)
And why is the holiday the Fourth of July rather than July Fourth? I suspect it has to do with that sense of formality that the longer form conveys and the the. It's not just some date, it's the date.
(I now have The Twelfth of Never stuck in my head.)
For more on why Americans tend to call the holiday by the date, rather than Independence Day, see this article on Slate.
"let June the 23rd go down in history as our independence day".
First: note that date after the month. Does June the 23rd sound more formal or ceremonial than the 23rd of June in a BrE context? Would love to hear British thoughts on the relative formality of the ways of saying dates.
Second: Whenever I heard the Leave [the European Union] campaigners claiming that date as "Independence Day", I thought: Is that what all this is about? Are these guys just jealous that they don't have a holiday with a [orig. AmE] kick-ass name like the US has? I'm asking a bit as a joke, but a part of me thinks that it's not far off the mark.
(The timing of the new Independence Day film, opening in the UK on the day after the EU referendum, meant that lots of people were using the film's poster instead of images of actual people fighting for actual independence in the actual world. It is all rather surreal.)
And third, this table. I haven't been able to find who first put it together and posted it (if you know, let me know and I'll add a credit)--I've seen it on many friends' Facebook pages.
|(The table is from Wikipedia, but I'm not sure who added the question and circulated it.)|