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!

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8 comments so far

  1. Patrick on


    I absolutely love this topic of discussions. It’s why I’m so weird.

    Anyway, yeah, you got it spot on. “Twenty” is the way to go for the 21st century (get it, “TWENTY”-first century? heh), and I agree that 2010 is the first year where the change should occur, and that many will resent it at first.

    But it will be set in stone by the time the “X-teens” come around, i.e. “thirTEEN”, “fourTEEN”, because “twenty thirteen” just sounds so much more sweet than “two thousand (and) thirteen”.

    By then the only reference to the latter will be in marriage announcements “…on this seventh day of two thousand and thirteen in the year of our lord…etc”.

    The only trouble I foresee is the 2020s. “Twenty twenty” (2020) is fine, but it’s kind of a hassle to say “twenty twenty one”, and etcetera, but by then we’ll be saying “twenty one” (`21) anyway.


  2. QC on

    Hi, Patrick. I’m glad you enjoyed this topic. Thanks for letting me know and for adding to the discussion.

    Good point on the wedding invitations. That will probably never change.

    I don’t foresee a problem with the 2020s. Once the transition occurs, 2010-2012, I think we’ll be good. The transition period will be interesting.

    On a related note, when referring to past years in the current decade, are you hearing people say, for instance, “oh-seven”? I say it that way, and I think I’m hearing others do it more and more.

  3. Patrick on


    You’re certainly right about the “oh-seven” abbreviation, which a lot of people do say. I’m sure that in the future, when we’re used to the “Twenty” usage, people will look back on the “nine-eleven, twenty oh-one” (9/11/2001) attacks.

    To drive our points home, check out this CNN News video, where they discuss both “2010” and “2012”, and use “twenty”. I’m sure if you search other videos as well, you’ll find the “twenty usage”.

    You’ll notice though, that the host of this video clip kind of pauses before saying, “twenty twelve”, as if he’s thinking about how to pronounce it. All of this is very interesting, intriguing.

    The link:

  4. QC on

    Ha ha, I see the hesitation. Thanks, Patrick.

    You said:

    All of this is very interesting, intriguing.

    Yes it is, but I wonder if we’re the only two people with that point of view. Ah, well. Weirdness loves company.

  5. Patrick on

    Your quote: I wonder if we’re the only two people with that point of view.
    (I don’t know how to do the fancy quoting thing you did)

    We’re definitely not the only ones, heh. Check out:

    I’m sure there’s more out there somewhere too.

  6. QC on

    Great thread, Patrick. Thanks for the link. I should have checked Wikipedia before writing the post — but if I had done that, I might not have written it at all.

    FYI, here’s how to do the fancy quote thing — put <blockquote> immediately before the material you are quoting and </blockquote> immediately after. Disclaimer: I’m sure there are forums/blogs on which this technique won’t work.

  7. Michele on

    I vote two thousand ten; as “twenty-ten” seems to catch-phrase and marketing-like, like “9/11” instead of September 11th. However, considering the years to follow will add to the roll, it may be easier to say “twenty-thirteen” as opposed to “two thousand thirteen”.
    Oy vey. I’ll go with the mass on this one!

  8. QC on

    Thanks for the vote/comment. Based on what I saw on TV last night, I like “twenty ten”‘s chances. The announcers and entertainers were splitting pretty evenly between “twenty ten” and “two thousand ten” (or “two thousand and ten”). In fact, Rihanna tried to have it both ways, asking the crowd at 30 Rock “Are you ready for two thousand ten?” and immediately following that with “Are you ready for twenty ten?”.

    Since you mentioned 9/11, I was always irritated by the way George W. Bush would say “September the 11th”. Of course, I was irritated by just about everything he did :/

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