Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last post of whatever the heck we're calling this decade

With the days winding down where the date above them ends with a 9 the window for recapping the year that's about to end is, itself, coming to an end. Within a day or so of New Year's Day it seems like the appetite for such things dries up, and then people are focused on where the new year is going rather than dwelling on where the previous year went.

This year presents an opportunity that's greater than the typical year-end recaps, as it is perceived as the end of a decade. Well, of course it's the end of a decade; a decade is a period of ten years; on any given day it's the completion of a window of time that started ten years previous. Obviously, today it will be true that the ten-year period that started January 1, 2000 will come to a close, and as such, that appears to justify devoting air time and column inches to making lists of bests/worsts/whatever in that period. With 24-hour news, specialty networks, and the internet there are certainly plenty of outlets that need filling.

Being the first decade of the century it does seem as though the count question that divided people ten years ago at this time can still come in to play. Namely: Does the decade start at 0 and run to 9, or start at 1 and run to 10?

As we approached the end of 1999, in addition to people stockpiling supplies in fear that programmers had not corrected their code pertaining to the use of two-digit years, the main argument was whether come January 1, 2000 it constituted the commencement of the new millennium or such an event actually fell to the first day of 2001. The answer was: It only matters to people who give a crap about delineating history on a base-10 structure.

Clearly common parlance has now declared that the new period started in 2000, whether that's right or wrong. Even though that makes the first decade of the previous millennium only nine years long, the adjustments to the calendar that have occurred over the last couple thousand years really make nit-picking about such things rather moot.

That the year is the length that it is makes some sense to the extent it reflects the relative position of the earth in its orbit around the sun, but as that period of the earth's orbit doesn't match 365 of the 24-hour periods we call days there's the need for extra days in leap years, so even what we call December 31 does not always correspond with where the earth was in its orbit the last time we called a day December 31. However, it's the system we have. All references to a given day are what we choose to interpret as having significance, but at least there's some system in place to try to keep a modicum of order. Grouping years into arbitrary periods like decades (and centuries, and even millennia) is pure semantics; if one wants 2009 to be the end of a decade it's the end of a decade.

When 2020 rolls around it will be far enough away from 2000 for the millennium-or-not debate to be old news, and it will be the start of a period where the second half of the date will all be pronounced the same for ten years straight—that is, two-thousand twenty, two thousand twenty-one, two-thousand twenty-two, etc.; it will be what will later be called "the Twenties" and become the first easily referenced decade of the twenty-first century (and will be followed by seven more such distinguishable decades, to close out the hundred years that commenced in 2000). As we complete a decade of years where the first part was the same—two-thousand—but will be the same through the century, it does no good in providing a handy nickname for the period completed at the end of today.

I've heard some attempts at branding this decade "the aughts," hearkening back to the turn of previous century, but I'm skeptical that in the era of Twitter such an antiquated term will catch on, especially as it hasn't happened yet (despite some trying to make it so for half of the expiring decade).

When VH1 resurrected their I Love the... pop culture retrospective series (after making multiple versions of I Love the '70s, I Love the '80s, and I Love the '90s) for this first eight years of this decade they clearly punted on coming up with a term, wussing out with I Love the New Millennium.  Had they boldly named it "I Love the Aughts," or, really, anything that didn't involve the entire next thousand years, then this would all be resolved, but instead we're in a bit of a vacuum about the determining factor. We'll just have to wait and see what term will be adopted.

I suspect "the first decade" might prove the most easily understood when in the future people attempt to mention this period, but admit it lacks sufficient panache to get a TV series named after it.

The coming decade will have a majority of years ending in "teen," and "the Teens" likely will end up being their moniker when all is said and done, with years ten, eleven and twelve remaining implicitly included.

The impending ten years, with the second half of the full date finally hitting double digits, will also prove an interesting period, pronunciation-wise: While the single-digit years lent themselves only to being spoken as "two-thousand one," "two thousand two," etc., and not "twenty-o-one," "twenty-o-two," etc., the Teens could see a shift to "twenty ten" over "two-thousand ten" (and so on). Personally I prefer "two thousand," being a mere extra syllable over "twenty," but I have no illusions about exerting general influence in such matters. (Or really in any matters, but I digress.)

Of course, the triple-syllable "eleven" we'll hit the following year will almost certainly make prefacing that with "twenty" less of a mouthful, and that probably will be the end of "two-thousand" until perhaps 2020, when "twenty twenty" may sound too much like (what probably will be an outdated) night time news program. Not that it's likely there'll even be news programs then, but some of us will still be around from the time when such things existed, and may find it sounds weird speaking the date that way.

I'd lay pretty good odds that 2021 will be "twenty twenty-one" even if the year before it was "two-thousand twenty," and the "twenty" will supplant "two-thousand" as the common reference for the remainder of the century.

And not to sound morbid but I don't expect to still be around when next we have this what-to-call-the-first-decade conundrum. Unless, of course, reincarnation is what awaits me in the afterlife, in which case my future self may be having this same rumination 100 years hence, in whatever incarnation computers and the internet have taken.

Note to theoretical reincarnated future self: If the content of the current internet somehow persists in to the 22nd century and you come across this, it could prove what the afterlife is. Of course, if the expansion of what's on the 'net continues to increase as it has, and then there's 100 more years worth of blogs and photos and YouTube videos, finding this will prove an even greater proverbial needle in a universe-sized haystack. (That expression may mean nothing to you by that time, but you should be able to look it up in whatever has become of Google.) Unless you happen to be searching for "world's largest corn dog" (presently #3!) or "romanesque broccoli"--the two posts of mine that show up reasonably high in the lists of results by search engines in the early 21st century--it's highly unlikely that you'd ever find that these words ever existed. (Which, considering that hardly anybody here in the 21st century can find these words, is the realistic expectation.) Especially in light of the greater likelihood that in 2109 the media (whatever that is at the time) will be too busy recapping the bests and worsts of that decade.

Whatever they're calling it.

Happy 2110.


And for my reader back in 2009: Happy Old Year's Day!


  1. A variation in spelling of aught is ought.

    And considering the last decade, I prefer to call it the Oughts -- as it it ought have been better, I ought've done more, etc.


  2. And another variation is naught. So the decade of 2000-2009 could be called the Naughties.



So, what do you think?