May 23, 2018
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It’s time for ‘twenty’

It’s 2009. Did you pronounce that as “two-thousand-nine,” or as “twenty-oh-nine”? Quick — in what year did Theodore Roosevelt leave the presidency? “Nineteen-oh-nine,” or “nineteen-hundred and nine”? It’s more likely that you used the former phraseology. If so, why not switch to the same construction for this year and subsequent years of this century?

Maybe it’s the sort of distinction that only someone who cares about the use of language would notice, but it seems the time has come to ditch the formal approach we’ve taken to the second millennium of the common era. Economists and news commentators have thrown around “two-thousand-and-ten” as the year the economy is expected to rebound. But isn’t that a mouthful? Why not use the shorter “twenty-ten”?

Interestingly, elderly characters in movies of the early 1930s, when they wax nostalgic about their youth (while the dashing young men and women smirk at their stuffiness), use the more formal, “nineteen-hundred-and-seven” construction. Do you want to be that old-timer, or a hip, third-millennium type?

Politicians have begun to switch to the “twenty” approach. As in, “the ‘twenty-ten, twenty-eleven’ state budget faces a huge revenue gap.” And just ask Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney about their aspirations, and the phrase “twenty-twelve,” as in the year Barack Obama faces re-election, seems to trip off the tongue. TV news pundits have also taken the plunge, especially the fast-talking types who fear they’ll be talked over if they don’t get their point out in 10 seconds or less.

One bold pioneer joining the “twenty” club some years ago was Charles Osgood, the cultivated but wry host of TV’s “Sunday Morning on CBS” program. Greeting viewers with a welcome to the “April 17th, twenty-oh-five,” or “October 22, twenty-oh-six” episode of the show, Mr. Osgood seemed downright defiant about the correctness of his pronouncement of the year.

The rest of us may have caught up, it seems. As with anything else new and unusual, we’ve become blase about living in the 2000s. Signs to look for to see if the transformation is complete: car commercials referring to the “new ‘twenty-ten’ models,” and film critics referring to that landmark 1968 Stanley Kubrick movie as “twenty-oh-one, a Space Odyssey.” Well, maybe that won’t change.

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