Eric D. Snider

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What decade is it? Anyone? Anyone?

At the end of 1999, some people declared that we were about to embark on the 21st century. Those people were mistaken. The 21st century did not begin until 2001. There was no year zero A.D. The first year was 1 A.D.; thus, the first century was 1-100; the second century was 101-200; and the 20th century was 1901-2000. The 21st century didn’t start until 2001, and will last through 2100.

Everyone knows this now, and the people who thought the 21st century would begin in 2000 have accepted their error. You live and you learn. Unfortunately, some people have taken this idea beyond its bounds and declared that the current decade, the 2000s, is NOT about to end. They say it won’t end until 2010.

Here is the problem. We are talking about two different things. The logic used with centuries doesn’t apply to decades because we don’t number our decades the way we number our centuries. Technically, this is the 201st decade A.D. But we don’t call it that. We call it the ’00s. The ’00s are, by definition, the years that have “0″ as their next-to-last digit: 2000-2009. Likewise, the ’80s were, by definition, the years that had “8″ as their next-to-last digit: 1980-1989. The year 1990 was obviously not part of “the 1980s.” Try saying “1990″ out loud. Did you say “eighty” at any point? No? Then it’s not part of “the eighties,” is it?

Now, if we did refer to this as the 201st decade, you would be absolutely correct that it won’t end until the end of 2010. The years 1-10 were the first decade; 11-20 were the second decade; 1991-2000 were the 200th decade; and 2001-2010 are the 201st decade.

But we don’t refer to our decades that way. A “decade” is ANY sequence of ten years. 1984-1993 was a “decade.” The people who said “the century” was ending in 1999 were right — the “century” of 1900-1999 was indeed ending. And in 1985, the “century” of 1886-1985 was ending. They were only mistaken when they said “the 20th century” was ending. “The 20th century” is specific and defined, and can only mean the years 1901-2000.

In common parlance, when we talk about what “decade” it is, we’re talking about which digit is next-to-last in the year number. If that digit is a 9, that year was part of the ’90s. If that digit is a 0, it’s part of the ’00s. That’s how we do it in our culture. Most of the time, when we talk about the “decade,” that’s the criteria we’re using. The whole “there was no year zero” thing has nothing to do with it. That would only matter if we were counting the number of decades, which we don’t do. That’s why you’re seeing “best of the decade” lists now, at the tail end of 2009: because 2010 will be part of a new “decade,” the ’10s. Get it?

P.S. I thought of another example that may help clarify this important subject in the mind of the reader. When you talk about “the 1900s,” you mean the years 1900-1999 — the ones that have “nineteen” in them. At the end of 1999, “the 1900s” were indeed ending; the 20th century, however, was not. It is the same principle with the decades, the only difference being that we do not commonly number our decades like we do our centuries.

41 Responses to “What decade is it? Anyone? Anyone?”

  1. Stacy Says:

    I am more concerned with how we’re supposed to pronounce this decade… The zeroes? The oh-ohs? The ots? Double ots? The turn of the century? I think all of these options are lame.

  2. ~j. Says:

    Yeah, I get it.

  3. Eric D. Snider Says:

    The first decade in a century tends to get called the same thing as the century, i.e., in this case, “the two-thousands.” “The aughts” or “the naughts,” both using old-timey words that mean “zero,” are logical, but hardly anyone calls them that. It’s a little late to be worrying about it now anyway. What are we calling the next one? “The tens”? “The twenty-tens”?

  4. Richie Says:

    I agree with Stacy, and disagree with Erin in that right now is the perfect time to be worrying about it, since starting next year is when we’ll really start referring to the ’00s.

  5. CoolBoy Says:

    The “teens.”
    And after that, the “twenties.”
    See? It’s easy!

  6. Red Says:

    I’m waiting for the mainsteam media to tell me what to call the decade. The mainstream media are always right. (Or is it left?) Baa.

  7. Joshua Says:

    “Try saying ’1990′ out loud. Did you say ‘eighty’ at any point? No? Then itís not part of ‘the eighties,’ is it?”

    Oh, Mr. Snider. This is why I have no reservations when I commend you to my friends.

  8. Amp Says:

    I love that Eric filed this under “General Merriment,” as he did with WayansGate. I ask you, if discussing proper diction and grammar isn’t the essence of merriment, what is?

  9. Stacy Says:

    I think “twenty-tens” has the best ring to it. I don’t like the idea of “teens.” But it’s okay, because first we have to get through the tweens.

  10. Scott Says:

    I take issue with Eric saying that there was no year 0. The documentary film “Back to the Future” specifically shows Doc. Brown key in Dec. 25, 0000 when referring to the date of the birth of Christ. I’ve always wanted everything in that movie to be true – and now you can buy FluxCapacitors online from ThinkGeek. Therefore the year 0 also existed.

    There are no holes in this logic whatsoever. ;)

  11. Momma Snider Says:

    I’ll be calling the next decade the teens, I think, but not until we reach 2013. I don’t know what I’ll call the 10 through 12. Maybe they don’t get a generalized group of their own.

  12. Sean Says:

    I always thought the people who pedantically insisted “the new century doesn’t start until 2001″ were killjoys. It’s all arbitrary anyway. People just want an excuse to have a big party. And I was writing software at the time, so when people argued, “You don’t start counting at 0, do you?” I thought, “Well, yes, I do, because that’s how arrays are indexed.” 2000 was the beginning of the 21st century since 1 B.C. And since Christ was born in 1 B.C., 2000 actually was the the start of the 21st century since His birth. So I think 2000 is as good a year to call the start of the arbitrarily-designated “21st Century” as any. (See, you’re always right when you define your own terms).

    I think we should call the current decade the “twenty-ohs” because it’s catchy. Also, it will bug the pedantic people who got caught up in Y2K, because nobody actually calls it “twenty-oh-nine.”

  13. Duke of Earl Grey Says:

    I always planned on referring to 2000 as “twenty hundred”, 2001 as “twenty-oh-one”, etc., but being in a Spanish speaking country in 1999-2000, I just called 2000 “dos mil” like everyone else, and I never went through with the twenty thing on getting home. Now that we’re on the threshold of 2010, I’m not sure I want to start saying “twenty-ten”, but I’ve got to start one of these decades.

    Honestly, I don’t think we as a society are prepared to name this decade. Starting next year, we’ll just refer to it as “last decade” or something. So we have until at least twenty-twenty to pick a name. I suggest “naughties”.

  14. donignacio Says:

    By the year 2020, nobody will be talking to each other face to face. So we can continue writing ’00s and never have to worry about it. Alternately we can refer it as the decade with no name, or just nod blankly when we’re talking about it. Maybe we can just pretend that it didn’t exist. I’ll blame those worry lines and my hair suddenly falling out on Y2K.

  15. corned_beef Says:

    Funny how 2000-2009 were “two thousand” years but 2010 will be twenty-ten.

  16. hecowe Says:

    Huh.

    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

  17. random Says:

    Umm… I always called the 00′s the “Noughties” simply because it’s mildly amusing.

  18. darthval Says:

    I think we should call the next decade “the tensies.” It’s cute, reminds me of LOTR and it also covers the years that aren’t technically teens.

  19. Lohengrin Says:

    Momma Snider,
    I suppose you should probably call 2010 to 2012 the ‘tweens. As in “I was looking for a job, but no one was hiring in the tweens.”
    That wasn’t as clever as I thought it would be. Oh well.

  20. Paul Norman Says:

    Sean – When you say “the century” you can mean 2000-2099 or 2001-2100. That was Eric’s point. Only when you specifically say the 21st century should you be careful to mean 2001-2100.

  21. Craig Says:

    Since I get the feeling this was written out of exasperation, or perhaps to settle an argument, I wonder how many people ever win arguments with you, Mr. Snider. I for one, will avoid them altogether!

  22. steve Says:

    I have seen the years 2000-2009 referred to as “the two-thousands,” but are the years 1900-1909 really referred to as “the nineteen-hundreds?” Because whenever I hear the phrase “the nineteen-hundreds,” I think of 1900-1999. And concerning what to call the decade of 2010-2019, we should just call it the same thing that we currently call the decade of 1910-1919 (whatever that is).

  23. pizzatheface Says:

    The radio DJs have always avoided referencing this decade by playing the music of the ’80s, ’90s and “today”. So when the ten decade hits, will the ’00 music be from “yesterday”?

  24. Bryon Says:

    So what is the first decade of the twenty-first century?
    (a) 2000-2009
    (b) 2001-2010
    (c) 2010-2019
    (d) none of the above (please specify)

  25. donignacio Says:

    We’re still in the first century. I started counting the day I was born.

  26. Eric D. Snider Says:

    If we’re talking about the 21st century specifically, then the first decade of it is 2001-2010. The 21st century began with 2001, and would comprise the first 10 years. So if anyone wants to talk about “the best of the first decade of the 21st century,” they need to wait another year before they compile their lists, but I don’t think anyone’s saying that. Or at least they shouldn’t be.

  27. Hans Says:

    I’m still bitter we didn’t come up with something more interesting than two-thousand-X for the first 9 years after 2000. I was so looking forward to saying “twenty-aught-X”.

  28. Rebekah Says:

    I plan to refer to these years as “That decade I spent in college.” If I don’t step things up, that’ll cover the next decade, too. Cuss cuss cuss.

  29. Sean Says:

    But Paul, you missed my point. The “21st Century” is an arbitrary designation anyway. It is that because “They” decreed it to be so. I decreed that the “21st Century” means the 21st century since 1 B.C. That way, we get to party like it’s 1999. On the other hand, I spend Dec. 31, 1999 at home with my wife watching lame local fireworks on an 11-inch hand-me-down television. So I guess I never partied like it was 1999.

  30. Paul Norman Says:

    Sean – I am not sure I would say “arbitrary,” at least not if you consider the birth of Jesus a turning point in history. Then again, the actual birth year of Jesus is a little fuzzy…

    Anyway, assuming our calendar means what it is supposed to mean, it does make more sense to call 1-100 AD the first century and so forth. Unfortunately, they did not consider none or nothing–what we designate as 0–to be part of the number system back when Roman numerals were being used. Thus there is no year 0. Since you are not emporor or anything like that, I am afraid the rest of us feel no obligation to follow your decree about calling 200-2099 the 21st century. I think by your logic, we should call 1 BC to 99 AD the zeroth century, 100-199 the first century and we are now living in the 20th century.

  31. whome Says:

    Isn’t the suffix -teen derived from the word ten? If so, I think we could reasonably call next decade the teens, even though ten, eleven and twelve don’t have the suffix attached.

  32. Sean Says:

    Paul—Actually, the logical extension would be to call the years 101 b.c. to 2 b.c. the Zeroth Century, and then 1 B.C. to 99 a.d. would be the “First Century.” Sure, that’s confusing for the ancients, since their centuries neither start nor end on nice round numbers, but they’re already counting backwards and anyway, they’re all dead. (Also, if we had used a proper “Year 0,” then the Zeroth Century would run from 100 b.c. to 1 b.c.; much tidier).

    If you consider the birth of Jesus a turning point, then our current system is still arbitrary, because Jesus wasn’t born on Jan. 1. For example, Mormons generally believe Jesus was born April 6, 1 b.c. Based on that assumption, the 21st Century started April 6, 2000. If you believe Jesus was born on Dec. 25, the 21st Century started Dec. 25, 2000. And if you believe Jesus was born on some unknown day in 4 a.d., then the 21st Century started on that unknown day in 2004. Either way, Jan. 1, 2001 is arbitrary, unless we’re talking about the 21st century since something that happened Jan 1, 1 a.d. (A cold winter day, perhaps?)

    So I still maintain that my arbitrary date of Jan. 1, 2000, chosen to optimize the intersection between the Gregorian calendar and party-ability, is at least as good as any other arbitrary date.

  33. iAlex Says:

    To quote an X-files episode that relates to this subject.

    Mulder: “no one likes a math nerd Scully”

  34. Calmom Says:

    On what to call the next ten years the media (Adam Roberts- The Economist) also lists “perhaps the “decas”, “dekkas”, or –fingers crossed for the economy–the “decadents”. (In addition to the “teens”, “tens”, “twenty tens” or “two thousand and tens”.)

  35. sam Says:

    I would just like to point out that at the start of next year we get to start saying “twenty” instead of “two thousand.” The future has arrived in twenty ten!

  36. TashaKay Says:

    You know, when December 31st, 2000, rolled around, I thought all those killjoy math nerds would be having giant parties, since it was the REAL turn of the century … but were they? No, of course not. It was just like any old New Year’s Eve. All that whining trying to ruin everybody’s fun for nothing, telling everybody how stupid they were … you know that it’s the LOOK of the numbers more than what they mean (since, honestly, how accurate of a calendar do we really have anyway?) that most people care about …

    Also, has anyone ever taught a history class where you have to explain over and over and over again that the 18th century is NOT the 1800s but is the 1700s? The young ones are very confused. (And by “young ones,” I mean people in high school and college.) Very sad.

  37. Felipe Dias Says:

    Wich means the first “00s” AD and the last “00s” BC had only nine years, correct?

    Funny. (not being ironic)

  38. Brian Laskiewicz Says:

    Decade names???
    -2000-2009, for the current decade, how about the ‘nullies’? It has a catchy 2-syllable ring to it, captures the essence of the numbers, but doesn;t make the decade sound like a bunch of zeroes or ‘ohs.’ Plus, it’s different than the run of the mill suggestions like zeroes, ohs, aughts, aughties, noughts, or noughties.

    -201-2019, as for the next decade, that answer is unclear, but I am leaning toward “deccas” for now since “teens” is a misnomer and “tens” doesn’t have the catchy 2-syllable sound. “Tensions” is interesting, but sounds too nervous or angst-filled, projecting negative vibes.

    -As for speaking, bring on “twenty ten,” it seems like the media has caught on (except for car commercials, but even some of them are turning the corner now). Down the line, we’ll probably hear “twenty oh seven” instead of “two thousand seven” (blame that on Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick in 2001: A Space Odyssey pre-production, though “two thousand” should still prevail. The allure of 3 zeroes and all digits changing is all there, plus I have yet to hear anyone say in common usage “twenty hundred.”

  39. Adam Says:

    So by this logic, the first decade (1 A.D.- 9 A.D.) would have had only nine years.

  40. Bob Says:

    Adam: No… the first decade had ten years, just like every other decade.

    But like the writer says, we do not count decades. No one called the 80s the “198th decade”. A decade can be any ten years. If you don’t understand that this has nothing to do with the first ten years AD, then it’ll be hard to explain.

  41. sdf Says:

    This whole article is based on a fallacy. When you don’t have facts, you appeal to smoke and mirrors.

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