Hundreds or Thousands of Years?
Here’s one to lose sleep over.
Several evenings ago, Mrs. QC and I were engaged in a discussion with son #3 about the continuation of his religious education. At one point Mrs. QC referred to the year 2010 as “two thousand ten”. I couldn’t stop myself from interrupting a serious discussion to venture an opinion on a trivial matter, whether people will say “two thousand ten” or “twenty ten”. I say “twenty ten” because the lessor number of syllables almost always wins.
Taking a look back, when the odometer turned over to 2000, it made perfect sense that people would say “two thousand”. I mean how often do you get to flip that thousands digit? The novelty alone ensured the use of “two thousand” — not to mention “twenty hundred” is one syllable longer.
In the years that followed, “two thousand something” ruled, even thought “twenty oh something” is the same number of syllables. There’s no doubt next year will be “two thousand nine”, not “twenty oh nine”.
This brings to mind the question of how the years 1901-1909 were pronounced at the time. Today it’s most common, I believe, to say “nineteen oh something”, like “nineteen oh five”. But I don’t think saying “oh” for the tens place was common back then. I think I once read that people said “nineteen something” (like “nineteen five”) or even “nineteen aught something” instead of “nineteen oh something”. Both sound pretty old fashioned. Anybody out there have something more definitive on this? (I don’t feel like researching it now.)
OK, back to the (near) future … and this is where I start to hedge. I can see “twenty ten” struggling to gain traction, despite the lower syllable count, simply because of the force of the habit established ten years earlier. I’m not even sure about “twenty eleven” because of the vowel at the beginning of “eleven”.
I have complete confidence in “twenty twelve,” which rolls off the tongue pretty nicely, don’t you think? From there we go “twenty something” all the way through “twenty ninety-nine” (at some point, I suspect, without me along for the ride). Then it’s on to “twenty-one hundred”.
After that murk settles in. Will the next year be “twenty-one oh one” or by then will a zero in the tens place be called something different? Maybe twentieth century nostalgia will be big around the time of New Year’s Eve 2101 and aught will make a comeback: “Twenty-one aught one” — how retro!