Why is CET called MET?

Paul Eggert eggert at twinsun.com
Tue Jun 18 03:52:49 UTC 1996

   From: Markus Kuhn <mskuhn at cip.informatik.uni-erlangen.de>
   Date: Tue, 18 Jun 1996 01:49:23 +0200 (MET DST)

   The time zone in which Germany is located is called by a German
   law "Mitteleuropaeische Zeit (MEZ)" in winter and "Mitteleuropaeische
   Sommerzeit (MESZ)" in summer.

This is a delicate area in the current zoneinfo database.  The stated
general rule is to use traditional English names for cities and time
zones.  This means that the America/Montreal entry has an English name
and has entries that say `EST', even though many Montreal inhabitants
no doubt would prefer a French name with entries that say `HNE'.

The justifications for this policy in zoneinfo are:

	* fewer heated discussions
	* Ascii compatibility
	* far fewer entries are required; e.g. there's no need to distinguish
		America/Montreal from America/Toronto,
		not to mention Europe/Rome vs Europa/Roma

It would be nice to have an internationalized zoneinfo database that
contained names and time zone abbreviations in other languages, but
such a database would have to address the above problems, and it'll
take some work to design and promote it.

In the mean time, the normal phrase used for ``Mitteleuropa'' in
English is ``Central Europe'', so I would expect the most natural
English translation of ``Mitteleuropaeische Zeit (MEZ)'' to be
``Central European Time (CET)''.

   Do you have any formal reference why "Central European Time" is any
   more correct than "Middle European Time"?

Another delicate area in the zoneinfo database is the question of de
facto versus de jure names for things.  There's no stated policy here,
but given that zoneinfo is not authoritative, I suggest that zoneinfo
should adopt the OED's approach and describe actual usage, not
official usage.  For example, in the matter of ``Irish Summer Time''
vs ``British Summer Time'', our best evidence so far is the opinion of
an Irish Government Secretary that `IST' is correct; but if we were to
obtain a comprehensive study of actual usage showing that most
English-speaking people say `BST' not `IST' for summer time in the
state of Ireland, then I would say that the study is stronger evidence
still, and that we should keep `BST' in the database.

What does this mean for `CET' versus `MET'?  Well, Alta Vista reports
about 500 hits for "Central European Time" on the Web, but only 61
hits for "Middle European Time".  My impression from reading the a few
of the hits is that "Middle European Time" often appears from
back-translation from the zoneinfo database, whereas "Central European
Time" is more common among the majority of people who aren't familiar
with zoneinfo in particular or Unix in general.

So it appears that there's a strong case for `CET' over `MET' in
real-world usage.

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