by Jack Stuef
About a year ago, without discussing it with one another, we each made a choice: Some of us were going to call this current year “two-thousand ten,” and some of us were going to call it “twenty ten.” For those going with the former, it was a mere continuation of the format we had used for the past decade. And those people were wrong. The double-digits format is easier and quicker to use now, just as it was for all the years we employed it before 2000, and just as it will be if we start to use it uniformly for the rest of this millennium. How do you pronounce “1789”? See, you don’t say “one-thousand seven-hundred eighty-nine.” Unless that’s a rare kind of autism, and you have it.
Twelve months later, society is still divided on what to call this year, and it seems we will be in conflict anew over what to call 2011. These are, after all, the Years of Our Lord, and He has to be getting pretty annoyed with us no longer being able to reach consensus on something as simple as what to call them. It’ll come as no surprise when we get to 2012 and He decides to finally put an end to this pathetic species.
Why are we still not discussing what to call the name of the year? Because we each made our choice on it unconsciously. Some just continued in the format they were using; others switched in their heads to the easier format used for previous decades as a simple matter of efficiency.
Speaking of the end of that world, that late-2009 movie, 2012, didn’t help things. The powers that be surely made the film in order to lull us into believing the coming armageddon is nothing more than a popcorn fiction. In commercials, the title was pronounced “two-thousand twelve.” They wanted us to continue using the same format because they want us to be complacent in all matters leading up to the world’s end.
The illogical continuance of the thousands format is just another sign of the end of world civilization. The double-digits format is practical and streamlined, while the thousands format is whimsical and overfed with syllables. “Twenty eleven” is utilitarian; “two-thousand eleven” is a hedonistic ode to excess.
Why did we start using the thousands format in the first place? Sure, you can argue that, for the year 2000, it was easier and clearer to make that switch. But the format had already been in place years before. It existed in how we pronounced 2001: A Space Odyssey, and we did so because we were othering the shit out of 2000 and beyond. 2000 was once shorthand for a far-off and unreachable future of weird new realities. The thousands format was science fiction.
And to continue to speak about this century in the terms of the speculative writing of the last century is kitschy and backwards. The thousands format is dangerously nostalgic. We’re already well into this century, and we are still talking about it like we eat food in pill form. “Two Thousand Ten” looks like it should be written in a sweeping script, gracing the side of a 1950s tin rocket toy. It shouldn’t be uttered by those who profess to have tiny, previously unimaginable “smart” telephones in their pocket.
Why do businesses allow their employees to walk around saying “two-thousand ten” and “two-thousand eleven”? The divide in what to call the year forces us to stop and think for a moment when we hear someone use a different format than we do. We have to make an effort to remember that. Coupled with the extra time it takes to say “two-thousand eleven” out loud or in one’s head, and that costs American business 95 billion hours a productivity a year at a cost of $49 trillion a year, according to two figures I just made up.
No wonder we’re stuck in an endless recession! The double-digits format is change. It is progress. It is the future. Not the speculative future; the actual future. And when we hold on selfishly to things that no longer work, we begin to tear down the whole history of progress we built. It’s like the fall of Rome all over again, but with a lot more fat people.
According to Google, some people were aware of this problem in late 2009. NPR did a five-minute segment. A website, twentynot2000.com, went up with an accompanying Facebook page with tens of thousands of “twenty ten” adherents. But already, only a year later, that page is a complete wasteland of spam comments. The advocates abandoned trying logic. This thing is just going to persist.
And even if we could get on the same page with how to say the year, we still don’t know what to name the decades. “The aughts” never really caught on for the last one, and calling this one “the teens” just sounds like we want to give it a curfew.
It’s a good thing this will all be over soon. What a waste.
Photo by TheArches, from Flickr.