In Defense Of Two-Thousand-Ten


Happy New Year! So what year is it now?

When the question’s being asked in writing, it’s no big deal. But discuss it in person, and you’re running the risk of someone getting upset.

I would say there’s been much debate about how you should pronounce the current year, but really, it’s not so much a debate. There seem to be two camps — those who say “two-thousand-ten” (or, alternately, “two-thousand-and-ten”), and those who say “twenty-ten” and insist that you should, too, because it’s the only right way of saying it.

Those who fall into the latter camp claim history is on their side. There was no debate about this 15 years ago. Nobody argued that you should say the year was “one-thousand-nine-hundred-ninety-five.” It was simply “nineteen-ninety-five.” Pick any year in the last century, and it’s the same thing — “nineteen-whatever.”

The problem, they would argue, is that we’ve allowed ourselves to become sidetracked. For the last ten years, it’s been “two-thousand-whatever.” Some would go so far as to argue we shouldn’t have been doing that. I saw a piece saying last year should have been “twenty-aught-nine.”

This temporary aberation, they argue, needs to be corrected. We cannot continue this century saying “two-thousand…” and, so, before it goes any further, we must immediately get back on track with “twenty…”

All well and good. Except …

The problem with this argument is that it ignores an important fact. They’re treating this like the turn of a century. But it’s the turn of a millenium, and the rules are different. Last century, those rules would have applied for the first decade. What year was it 110 years ago? Why, it was “nineteen-hundred.” It sounds natural. It rolls of the tongue. Nobody, but nobody, referred to the year ten years ago as “twenty-hundred.” Similiarly, “nineteen-oh-two” sounds natural. As did “two-thousand-two” eight years ago.

In normal speech, this same pattern emerges. If you have 1,900 of something, you have “nineteen hundred” of them. Add a hundred more, and you have “two thousand.”

So the argument that this is the only correct way to say 2010 because of history doesn’t hold up. The sampling is wrong.

That said, me, I don’t care so much. I joked with a friend last week that we should start referring to the year even more historically properly as MMX. (Pronounced, of course, “mmks”.) But the truth is, I’m just going to say what sounds right to me at the time. Language is usage. I’m accustomed to “two-thousand…” And, thanks to Arthur C. Clarke, I’m accustomed to “two-thousand-ten.” So I’ll probably say that. I imagine if all I hear is “twenty-ten,” I’ll probably pick up that usage without even thinking about it.

But I’m not worried about it. And you shouldn’t either. If anyone tells you you’re wrong, they are, too. Say what sounds right.

And, I suspect, eventually the tide will turn naturally on its own, even in a millenial century. 1010 years ago, it was, without question, the year “one-thousand.”

But everyone knows the Battle of Hastings took place in ten-sixty-six.

As an added bonus, I’m posting my awesome 2010-themed HAL iPhone background. Click on the image for a full-size version that can be downloaded and used as wallpaper.

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