Saturday, January 02, 2010

Twenty-ten: the Hastings precedent

After the end of the Noughties, without doubt the most recent decade in living memory, the new year begins and expert opinion comes to bear on the critical matter of what to call it. Norm draws our attention to a campaign to call it ‘twenty-ten’ rather than ‘two thousand and ten’, mainly on grounds of brevity.

But most of us have been saying ‘two thousand and X’ for the last decade, so why should we change style now?

A Times leader has half of the answer:

At present euphony dictates “two thousand and ten”, on the model of how the film 2001, A Space Odyssey is promounced.

Yes, “promounced”. Oh well. But the other mistake there is to forget that we also have a very well established precedent that supports ‘twenty-ten’. It’s one of the best-known years in all of English history.


Don’t try to tell me that you read that as ‘one thousand and sixty-six’. So it seems fair to conclude that once we get past the first decade of a millennium, we go from ‘two thousand and nine’ to ‘twenty-ten’.

On the subject of what to call the decade, that’s going to be harder (the 2010s works - no apostrophe please! - but we seem to need an abbreviation). I think the Times’s suggestion of the ‘Tennies’ is the best I’ve heard.


Matt M said...

I'm sticking with simply "this decade", and leaving the tricky business of an official name to historians.

Matt M said...

Happy New Year, by the way.

Hughes Views said...

The "precedent" you claim is a poor one. The objection to twenty-x is that we are familiar with nine compound words starting with twenty eg 23 thus twenty ten sounds like someone who has never heard of thirty trying to count.

Ten did not suffer from the same objection having been pinned onto the end of words and having gained an extra e at some forgotten time in the hazy mists of the past...

Happy New Year

anticant said...

The new decade doesn't start until next year, despite all the tripe being spouted on the numerically illiterate BBC.

There wasn't a Year Nought.

Hughes Views said...

Bad news for anticant - there wasn't a year one either.

And does he believe that Jesus was one when he was born?!

Tom Freeman said...

Anticant – what we have here is a collision between two conventions: that of the Christian calendar that was dated back to begin in 1AD, meaning the second century began in 101 and the 21st in 2001; and that of the practice of naming decades grouped by their years’ first three digits, meaning the 1990s ran from 1990 to 1999, not 1991 to 2000).

Neither is wrong; conventions are arbitrary. But it feels wrong for the 1990s to end at a different point from the end of the 20th century. It feels as though they ought to match up.

You clearly prefer to favour the convention that was established first; I prefer the one that’s now massively dominant and has been for some time (not just on the BBC!), whereby decades run from xxx0 to xxx9 and centuries from xx00 to xx99.

In celebrating a new decade now (or a new millennium on 1/1/2000), neither I nor most of the rest of the populace is marking the number of complete decades or millennia since Jesus’s birth (which was almost certainly not in 1AD anyway). We’re just marking the fact that we get to make a bigger change than usual to the name we give the coming year.

(You might like Richard J Evans on the change of convention: “The conclusion is inescapable: the 20th century had only 99 years. And we can narrow it down a bit further. Some time in the 20th century, there was a nine-year decade.”)

Brian – I take your point but think it’s a minor one. We’re familiar with those nine compounds beginning with ‘twenty’, but we’re also all familiar with the fact that there are only those nine. So unless talking to someone who’s deeply innumerate, there’ll be no scope for confusion. Although when cricket fans get around to talking about the 2020 Twenty20 Cup it could be tricky...

Either way, happy January one and all!

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