Saturday, January 2, 2010

Drop the Thousand

Yesterday one of my Facebook friends asked whether we should call the current year "twenty ten" or "two thousand eleven." It hadn't occurred to me that this was a meaningful question, but apparently some people are really serious about this.

Hendrik Hertzberg adds to the discussion an interesting bit of sociolinguistic analysis:

In my opinion, the late Stanley Kubrick is the culprit for what we’ve just been through. If his movie had been set a hundred years in the future, everyone would have called it “twenty sixty-eight.” But “2001”? You couldn’t call it “twenty one,” obviously. It wasn’t about Blackjack. And you couldn’t say “twenty oh one”; that would just sound stupid. So it was, as it had to be, “two thousand and one” or, less frequently, “two thousand one.”

It was natural for everybody to call 2000 “two thousand.” Besides the millennial portentousness, there was the fact that “two thousand” has one fewer syllable than “twenty hundred.” But when the big three-zero year was over, I’m convinced, we would have reverted to the usual practice and said “twenty oh one,” “twenty oh two,” and so on. (We’d most likely have avoided “twenty one,” “twenty two,” and so on, to avoid confusion with card games and starter rifles.) But Kubrick’s space odyssey had already conditioned us.

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