Wednesday, December 30, 2009

When Does the New Decade Begin?

You may recall the endless debates about whether the New Century began on January 1, 2000 or January 1, 2001. (I tried to argue with friends that it wouldn't occur until the year 5800, which wouldn't occur until 2040, but they didn't listen to me.)

The whole question revolved around whether or not there was a "Year Zero." And obviously, with respect to the Christian/Gregorian Calendar, there wasn't. So, the argument went, the "21st Century" began on January 1, 2001.

However, as I liked to point out -- a new century begins every second. Some centuries are just more popular than others. The same applies for decades, and years.

"The 1900s" began on Jan 1, 1900, and ended Dec 31, 1999. It seems logical to me to define "The 1900s" as any four-digit year beginning with the digits '19'. "The 2000s" would be defined similarly.

What about Decades?

No one referred to the past decade as "The 201st Decade." If we referred to decades as such, the 202nd Decade would begin on January 1, 2011. But we don't. The 2010s begin on January 1, 2010. It doesn't make any sense (to me) to look at it in any other way.

Wikipedia may be helpful if you are confused.


Anonymous said...

Well, what you wrote would be true if people had celebrated the start of the 2000s back on 1 Jan 2000 and nothing else. But most people thought that they were also celebrating the start of the 21st century and the start of the new millenium, neither of which was correct.

Also, even sources that should know better, such as NPR, are widely reporting today as being the last day of the first decade of the 21st century, which it is not. Of course it is the last day of the first decade of years beginning with the digit "2". But if you ask someone at midnight tonight what it is they are celebrating, I suspect that no one well say that they are celebrating the end of the first decade of years that begin with the digit "2".

John said...

What "Most People" think is irrelevant. "Most People" if asked who the first person to fly across the Atlantic non-stop was, if they have any response, will respond with "Charles Lindbergh" and be wrong. Facts don't change according to popular vote.

It is the last day of the first decade of the Twenty Hundreds, or the two thousands. (Whichever is the equivalent to nineteen hundreds that the world has decided upon, I'm not sure.)

A lot of people will say they're "celebrating the end of the first decade of the century." And that statement will be 100% correct.

Whether or not they come up with the correct name for that century is irrelevant to what the correct name of the century is.

Anonymous said...

If I understand the point you were trying to make, John, with your response to my previous comment -- if a person celebrates the end of the first decade of the 21st century tonight, and truthfully tells anyone that asks that that is what they are doing, then the external reality that they are doing so a year early is not relevant.

Or to put it another way, the Utah Jazz NBA team is playing tonight. If they fail to win, but I mishear the final score and think that they won, then I will be celebrating that win, regardless of the external reality being that there is no reason for me to celebrate.

John said...

Right. Your celebrating a win, doesn't change the fact they lost.

Someone saying they are celebrating the end of the first decade of the 21st century, doesn't cause the first decade of the 21st century to end a year early.

However, a decade ends on December 31st every year. A decade is any ten year period. And the first decade of the Twenty Hundreds is coming to a close. It is something to celebrate.

Ten years ago we were all wondering whether or not Y2K would cause the world to implode.