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Reflections on Reflections on the “Naughts”

Posted on Dec 30, 2009 by billsimmon in Emily, futurism, Life of Bill | 9 Comments

One of the things that amuses me about all of the end-of-the-decade reflections and lists going on around the web is that after ten years of living in this decade, we as a culture have utterly failed at agreeing on what to call it. I’ve seen aughts, oughts, oughties, naughts, naughties, 2000s, ’00s, double-0s, zips, two-thousandsies… There just isn’t a good, obvious naming option that people can glom onto. (A cursory Google check suggests that “2000s” is the most commonly used variation, but anecdotal experience tells me there isn’t an obvious, agreed upon choice.)

There’s also been some discussion in the media recently about whether popular convention will shift in 2010 from pronouncing years in the “two thousand X” mode to the “twenty X” mode. Here I happen to think a natural shift will occur in popular usage away from saying “two thousand” when mentioning the year in common parlance. “Twenty” is a whole syllable shorter, after all, and people are nothing if not lazy. In fact, I happen to think we would have started calling years “twenty oh-one,” “twenty oh-two” etc. ten years ago were it not for the significant cultural footprint of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: a space odyssey. “Two thousand one” was just too ingrained in our common lexicon and as a result, the efficiency of “twenty” was lost for those ten years (nitpickers will point out that the inclusion of the “oh” syllable in the pronunciation of “twenty oh-one” makes the syllable count equal to “two thousand one” and those nitpickers should shut up).

Another meme that’s propagating about the soon-to-be-over decade is that it sucked. There are some good reasons to think so. It was the Bush decade, after all. For myself, the two thounsandsies was easily the best decade of my life. I met, developed a crush on, dated, fell in love with and married Emily all in the last ten years. I started the decade with a job in public access TV and ended it with a career in community media. The Internet came into its own in the last decade and the effect it’s had on my life has been enormous and unambiguously positive. I get why the meta-critics are down on the last ten years, I’m just sayng it’s been a good period for me, personally and professionally.

I was born in the last half of 1969 so it’s actually quite handy to think of the decades of my life being neatly divided into ten-year chunks, the 70s, the 80s, the 90s, the whatevers…. I turned 40 this year and at the end of the 10s I’ll have just turned 50 (assuming I make it that far). I wonder what I’ll write in that end-of-the-decade blog post. Better or worse, future-Bill? I’ve got my fingers crossed.

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  1. Hello future-Bill! They make any decent sci-fi movies recently?

  2. On December 30, 2009, Rob said:

    I’ve never understood your fascination and almost obsession with how people refer to the years in the past decade. This past summer you corrected me when I referred to the two thousand twelve election. In fact you’ve been talking about this for ten years now. What does it really matter. I agree that twenty-twelve will become the norm, but who cares. It seems to bother you.

    With that, your forties will be fun too, just a little more painful.

  3. On December 30, 2009, billsimmon said:

    Hmm. I don’t recall the conversation you’re talking about, but if I “corrected” you, you may have referred to the 2012 election as the “oh-twelve” election, which a bunch of people are doing and is something I definitely would have harped on had I heard it. The other thing is really just a cultural observation. I don’t think one is right and one is wrong, I’m just interested in how people make these collective decisions.

  4. On December 30, 2009, Rob said:

    I think you give Kubrick too much credit. Two thousand one seems to be the natural following to two thousand. If we were not talking about dates then it wouldn’t be natural to say anything else. 2045 toothpicks is two thousand forty five, not twenty hundred…

    In text the date was never considered one thousand nine hundred and forty five, but rather nineteen hundred and forty five. the 2000′s kind of throw a wrench in the works. Hmmm…

  5. On December 30, 2009, billsimmon said:

    Well note that I’m not talking about how we use these terms in “proper” settings, like something the Chicago Manual of Style would dictate. I’m simply talking about how the dates will be used in common, everyday speech. In the 1900s (as well as in earlier centuries in which people spoke modern English), the shorthand was “nineteen oh-one,” etc. So one would think the same convention would naturally apply: “twenty oh-one,” etc.

    You may be right about the 2001 film, but I’m sticking to my guns on that one. It feels right in my gut. Either way, by the time we’re talking about years like 2017, there’s no effing way the commonplace parlance will suffer “two thousand seventeen.” It will be “twenty seventeen” all the way. Mark my words.

  6. I agree with every one of Bill’s points. Must be a new decade! ;-)

  7. On December 31, 2009, Mom said:

    Um … I have only one comment about this decade-naming thing, which came to me after you’d blathered on about it when last we saw each other. (Preface: I prefer two thousand ten, and you said it should be “twenty-ten” as a parallel to “nineteen-whatever.”)

    But if that were the case, why didn’t we call the year 2000 “twenty hundred”? Ick!

  8. On December 31, 2009, billsimmon said:

    I “blathered?” Really? Oh my. Well being my mom means you have to hear these things when they’re still in my head before I get them into a blog post. And I’m not actually saying it “should” be one way or another. It will be whatever the culture mutually agrees it should be through common usage. I’m saying I think the “twenty” convention makes sense and so I’m predicting the shift. I think it will happen withing the next year, but if not, certainly within two or three years. Time will tell.

  9. On January 1, 2010, Rob said:

    “Here in the year twenty-ten, we can look back upon two thousand and ten years of disagreement”.

    I wonder how the people of the eleventh century said the date and if there was a change, when that occurred.

    I am officially the first commenter of the year two thou… er, twenty-ten.

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