A Year by Any Other Name is Still a Year
by Julia Sneden
For several days around the turn of the year, the media folks seemed to be very concerned with what the world should call the year 2010. Rarely has so small a matter occasioned such a lot of hot air as this supposedly momentous decision: Will it be “Two Thousand and Ten,” or “Twenty-ten?”
Looking to the past, I expect that a thousand years ago people referred to the year 1001 as “One Thousand and One,” not “Ten-Aught-Aught (or “Zero-Zero”)-One,” and yet those of us who remember learning about the Battle of Hastings surely say that it happened in “Ten Sixty-six,” not “One Thousand and Sixty-six.”
Does anyone you know string out the year that Columbus sailed the ocean blue as “One Thousand Four Hundred and Ninety-two?” “Fourteen Ninety-two” does just fine, thanks.
Surely Shakespeare was born in “Fifteen Fifty-four,” not “One Thousand Five Hundred and Fifty-four,” and died in “Sixteen Sixteen,” not the unwieldy “One Thousand Six Hundred and Sixteen.” We may be thankful that zealous English teachers who took seriously their obligation to stuff those dates into our memories settled for the shorter version.
When we look at our own history, does anyone refer to the Declaration of Independence as having been written in “One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-six?” Enumerating the exact number of years wouldn’t, of course, change the rallying cry of “the spirit of ’76,” but the longer list does become awkward.
And concerning that second war with Britain — you know, “the War of One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twelve” — in the name of saving oxygen, let’s accept the fact that it’s “The War of Eighteen Twelve.” Like it or lump it.
Did the stock market crash which began the Great Depression occur in October of “One Thousand Nine Hundred and Twenty-nine,” or in” Nineteen Twenty-nine?” Either way, it wasn’t a happy occasion.
Woodstock: now there’s a notable date, and no one on God’s green earth says it happened in “One Thousand Nine Hundred and Sixty-nine.” It’s “Nineteen Sixty-nine,” or even just ’69 to one and all.
But then comes the millennial turn of 2000. Nobody even thought of calling it “Twenty-aught-aught” or even “Two-aught-aught-aught,” although for all those elementary school math teachers, those place-holding zeros were a Godsend. “Two Thousand” it was, and “Two Thousand” it proudly remains.
For the past ten years, we have kept with the “Two Thousand” lead-in, as in that unhappy year, “Two Thousand and One.”
The problem with “Twenty,” as I see it, is that saying “Twenty 0 One” is awkward, and “Twenty One” means something quite separate, as in the cardinal number, twenty -one.
My mother was born in 1907, which can be referred to as “Nineteen Seven,” an easy call because the nineteen doesn’t combine with the seven or any other number to create confusion.
Once we got past the number nine, as in “Two Thousand and Nine” we were home free, since none of the century/year combinations after “Twenty (0) Nine” connote a cardinal number — that is they won’t until 3001, which, if we described it as “Thirty one” could be construed as the number 31. But then, figuring that out will be someone else’s problem, won’t it?”
Does anyone seriously doubt that we will shortly be switching to the shortened “Twenty Ten” version? “Twenty Ten” trips easily off the tongue, although only marginally quicker to say than “Two Thousand and Ten.” At this point, either term seems acceptable. I suspect, however, that by Two Thousand and Sixty-six, we’ll be in the “Twenty Sixty-six” mode. We’d better just hope that we have no Battle of Hastings of our own to mark it.
©Julia Sneden Born in One Thousand Nine Hundred and Thirty-six Columnist for Sr. Women Web since One thousand Nine Hundred and Ninety-nine