Friday, January 01, 2010

It's the Year 2010 - That's Twenty Ten

Happy New Year and welcome to 2010 everyone. And that’s “Twenty Ten” NOT “Two Thousand Ten.” I admit it was easier to say the year 2009 as “two thousand nine,” and all the previous years in the millennium as well. But that habit has got to stop.

“Why is that?” I heard you asking. Well, it’s a matter of syllable economics. We are now a society of texting and tweeting and we value brevity, especially if nothing is lost by being brief. “Two thousand ten” or as some say it, “two thousand and ten” has four or five syllables. “Twenty ten” has but three. It’s easier to say once you get past the habit of saying “two thousand.” We’ve been doing that for ten years now and that’s enough.

The syllable thing kind of evened out when pronouncing the years of the first decade. For example, “two thousand nine” has the same number of syllables as “twenty-O-nine,” although those who say “two thousand and nine” are still at a disadvantage. But it’s that “O” in the middle that screws things up. It’s not really an “O” but a zero. And nobody uses the word aught anymore. I even heard one news reporter on TV use the phrase “twenty-O-ten” in describing some future plans for our city. That sounds like a bad pun on an Irish name.

But wait; don’t we enumerate other things using the longer terminology? If I was counting the number of words in one of my blogs (a very long blog) and there were 2,010 of then, I would say I typed “two thousand and ten” words. Yes but you see that little curvy thing after the 2? That’s called a comma. And when we write numbers past 999 we use commas after every third digit from the right. That breaks it up, so we can say “two thousand and ten” in the case where we are counting items.

Yes, I know our calendar is a way of counting years. But traditionally, there is not a comma in year numbers and by tradition, we have never used “thousand” in the pronunciation of any year, with the possible exception of the first 10 years of the second millennium, 1000 through 1009 (Although, technically, 1000 was still part of the first millennium. Read on.).

And it’s not just the sheer number of syllables that matter; it’s how we pronounce them. “Twenty” has two syllables compared to three for “two thousand,” but just listen to how we pronounce “thousand.” The first syllable is a strong diphthong. It’s almost like saying two syllables. And the second syllable has the “n” sound, which is almost always extended. It takes a bit longer to say “and” than it does to say “at” even though both words are monosyllabic. Ok, the first syllable of “twenty” has an “n,” too. Leave me alone; I’m trying to make a point here.

So for the sake of brevity and tradition, and so we won’t end up saying “two thousand and twenty” when 2020 arrives, we need to all correct old habits and start saying “twenty ten,” “twenty eleven,” etc.

Now, what about this decade thing? Is the first decade of the third millennium now history? Well, no it isn’t unless you started counting this decade at the year 2000 instead of 2001 as you should have. Back when we started assigning numbers to our years we used only Roman Numerals. There is no zero in Roman Numerals, so the first year of the first millennium in the Common Era was “I.” That’s year 1. So counting the first decade, or ten-year period, from year 1, we see that year 10 was the last year of the first decade. Year 11 started the second decade. Continuing on for the next 2,000 years, we see that the third millennium started in 2001 as did the first decade of the new millennium. So the second decade must begin at 2011.

But, alas, it makes it tougher to label decades that way. We always refer to decades as the twenties or thirties. And sometimes we give them a modifier, such as the Gay Nineties or the Roaring Twenties. But the actual decade of the Roaring Twenties started in 1921. The year 1920 is part of the twenties, but it’s not part of the decade of the twenties. And therein lies the confusion.

I am willing to accede to the decade question for the sake of simplicity, and because my opinion on it matters not to the masses of people, and the news media, who insist that we have just begun the new decade of the third millennium. I mean, Tiger Woods was already named Athlete of the Decade even though the decade officially has one more year to go.

Still, for the sake of consistency and clarity, I will become assimilated with regards to the decade matter. Just know that officially, the first decade of the third millennium is not really over yet.

So with all that said, the next question is what to call the new decade. I guess it makes sense to call it the “twenty tens.” We shouldn’t say “twenty teens” because that leaves out 2010 through 2012. I think the second decade of last century was called the “nineteen tens.”

I still don’t know what to call the first decade. I don’t think anyone else does either. When referring to the years 1900 through 1909, I’ve heard people say “the first decade of the twentieth century.” That’s a bit cumbersome. In our future retrospectives will we refer to the first 10 years of the twenty-first century as just that or will we call them the “twenty-O-ones,” or maybe the “aughts”? None of it sounds all that enticing.

Finally, do we use CE after the year or AD? It is becoming more common to use CE and BCE after years when referring to whether or not the year is positive or negative. There was no year zero as I said, but there was a year one right before the year one that began the first decade moving forward. Most people still refer to those negative years as BC, meaning “Before Christ.” Years after Christ are designated as AD, which is Latin meaning “The Year of Our Lord.”

The problem with that is for those of us who do not subscribe to Christianity. It’s not 2010 in the year of MY lord, since I don’t claim ownership of a lord. Back when the Christian Church was in charge of all matters political, they could proclaim “our” and it applied to everyone, whether they wanted it to or not. The tradition has stuck, but the meaning still is offensive to those who claim other religions or no religion at all.

So I use the alternative method, CE and BCE, which means “Common Era” and “Before Common Era” respectively. It is neutral with regards to any religion and should be adopted by everyone, because it offends no one (except perhaps for the fundamentalist Christians who are quite easy to offend).

So it is now the year 2010 CE. That’s “Twenty Ten.” And it is now the decade of the Twenty Tens. I hope it’s a good one for all of us.

Oh, and just for the sake of full disclosure, there are 1,233 words in this blog entry. That’s one thousand, two hundred thirty-three.

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