Thursday, 31 December 2009

On tens, teens, or whatever

This week has seen a dozen requests from radio stations and the press for comment about the same thing: what are we going to call the new decade? There was a similar fuss a decade ago, I recall, when the noughts (noughties, etc) were being debated. An Australian initative a few weeks ago asked for popular suggestions. The winner was one-ders - a piece of word play involving wonders and the ones which will be part of every year. Other suggestions were decnos, tentions, tweens, tennies, and twenteens.

I don't think human linguistic nature has changed much in the past century, so my guess is that what will happen today is the same as happened then. During the middle years of the century, people talked a lot about 'the tens, twenties, and thirties'. Tens was the predominant usage. However, there was also quite a lot of reference to the teens - the OED has citations dating from the 1930s. So the choice, it seems to me, will be between those two. If I had to choose, I would bet on tens, because these days teens has the dominant sense of teenagers, and people may well avoid using it for that reason. But it's not wise to bet, where language change is concerned.

Of course, this is all to do with informal usage. At a formal level, the issue is clearer. We have the choice of two thousand and ten (in British English - two thousand ten in American English) and twenty ten. Again, based on past centuries, speech is more likely to go for the shorter version. It's rare to hear 'in nineteen hundred and ten'. And I've never heard Tchaikovsky's overture called 'eighteen hundred and twelve'.

20 comments:

Lipman said...

I agree, but isn't there a difference between 1910 and 2010 in that "twenty hundred" isn't as common as "nineteen hundred", never mind whether the "hundred and" is skipped or not?

David Crosbie said...

I've long suspected that the reason so few of us say twenty-oh-nine etc is that our ears got attuned to Two Thousand and One: A Space Odyssey long before the millennium kicked in.

The logical expectation was that we'd get back to 'normal' in 2010 and say twenty ten. We shall see.

Songs in oral tradition with roots in the nineteenth century use other formats. Songs about building railways have, for example In eighteen hundred and forty-one and so on through the decade. The cobbler's Peg and Awl goes through the first decade, starting In the days of eighteen and one.

Rick S said...

We may not really have an answer until the twenties, when classic rock radio stations start playing "the greatest hits of the _______".

The Ridger, FCD said...

I think we'll say "twenty ten" because it has to be 2010, whereas "twenty nine" is, well, 29, and "twenty oh nine" is odd sounding, not to mention long. "Two thousand nine" is unambiguous.

Fran Hill said...

I've been saying, and will probably keep saying, 'two thousand and ten', just because it seems to continue logically from 'two thousand and nine'. However, I may change my ways when we get to 'two thousand and eleven'. That's a bit of a tongue-twister ...

DC said...

The rhythm is an important factor - something I forgot to mention in my post. The more that expressions conform to an iambic pattern, the more people like it. The unstressed syllable sequence of 'sand and el' won't be liked, and this will get worse when the teen-words arrive.

KALINAGO ENGLISH said...

am glad you mentioned the rhythm of the thing as I've seen it mentioned everywhere that 20/10 is the way to say our new year and it simply sounds harsh. I'll be calling it 2 thousand and ten but 20/11... just feels right.

And I like Seth Godin's calling the last decade the uh-oh's (as there were rather a lot of those in the world) and noughties sounds too much like naughty..which it weren't... well not for me.

And I'll go for teenies - I like the idea that this new decade of upcoming transitions and bumps in the road (as technology takes over in education and finally becomes, globally, completely mainstream as a period of adolescence.

Happy New Year!

R A Harless said...

I tried to spread calling the last decade the aught's, but it didn't catch on. VH1 dealt with it by calling their show about that decade's music "I Love the New Millenium".

I agree that twenty-ten will be the norm for brevity (and/or laziness). Also, the next Olympics is being called the Twenty-ten Olmpics.

Rythm is always an important factor, and will be the deciding factor in songs.

David Crosbie said...

On rhythm, I don't see how twenty thirteen for 2013 is any less iambic (or trochaic) than thirteen twenty for 1320.

Most years in this century will be trochaic (tum-ti tum-ti tum etc). Most years from 1300 to 1999 started with more of a spondee.

I'm saying twenty ten not because of the rhythm, but because I said nineteen ten, eighteen ten, seventeen ten...

And I'm sure I'll be saying twenty thirteen etc for the same reason.

DC said...

The issue arises because there are two stress patterns for the teen words: thirteen people vs I'm thirteen. I was referring to cases where the stress is on the second element. That's what makes it different from 1320, where that option doesn't exist.

DC said...

The issue arises because there are two stress patterns for the teen words: thirteen people vs I'm thirteen. I was referring to cases where the stress is on the second element. That's what makes it different from 1320, where that option doesn't exist.

cinderkeys said...

I'm fine with "the 10s." However, I didn't hear a good solution for the now-previous decade until last week, when a commenter on a Slate article suggested the "oh-ies." I think that's a fine pronunciation of the 00s. Rolls off the tongue much more easily than "the two thousands."

Graham said...

The Ridger: If "twenty oh nine" is odd sounding, why wasn't "nineteen oh nine"?

David Crosbie said...

I was totally wrong, of course, about 2013~1320. My mind's ear was paying exclusive attention to the length of the second syllables. Still, that's the only rhythmic difference I can hear between nineteen thirteen and twenty thirteen.

As I write, I'm listening to the blues singer Bobo Jenkins singing:

Do you remember, baby, nineteen and thirty-one?
That's when the Depression, baby, just begun
Yes darlin', if you know what I'm talking' about
The Democrats put you on your feet, baby, well,
You had the nerve to vote them out


He was singing in 1954, and seemingly looking forward to the next (non-presidential) elections. At the start of the harmonica solo he shouts

Yeah man! Play it a long time! 1956! Beat 'em! Beat 'em!

He pronounces the year nineteen fifty-six.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Because (to me) 19-9 isn't possible at all. 20-9 is, it just doesn't mean 2009, it means 29.

I guess. I don't really know. But if you live at 2009 Northwestern, I say you live at two thousand nine, but it you live at 1909, I say ninteen oh nine. Who know why?

DC said...

'Mean 29'? Does it really? I know it sounds like 29 - but would there ever be a context where you wouldn't know whether you were talking about the numeral or the year?

Jim Wright said...

The R A Harless comment has mentioned the Twenty-Ten Olympics. Here in the Vancouver area, where talk of those Olympics has gone on and on, 2010 has long been Twenty-Ten. With the alliteration of that fittest of sounds, the quick but strong T sound that trips off the tongue three times in TwenTy-Ten, and with the energy of the initial stressed syllable (Twen-), along with the pleasing internal rhyme, Twenty-Ten sounds right for the sports event. The repetition of 2010 in that spoken way in the Olympics context has to be a factor in how the first year of the decade and then the others get spoken.

Fran Hill mentions that the following year could be tongue-twisting, but the first syllable of eleven is likely to almost disappear in casual conversation. In that case, next year will be Twenty-leven.

Anonymous said...

My vote is two thousand ten. It sounds more elegant. But it may depend on what event, such as a wedding or a sporting event. At least this year will provide a year of transition since "two thousand ten" and "twenty ten" both will work.

Maybe at some point we can just call it ten. Or even 2.01k.
At what point will we reference the year as ten?
Probably not for a few years. Such as back in seventy-four, the snow was so high. "Back in ten" sounds like "I will be back in ten minutes". "Back in ten, the snow was so high". That does not sound right.

DC said...

Here's a specific example of the concern about year-naming a century ago. It's the caption to a Punch cartoon in its almanack for 1922. We see two aristocratic gentlemen at a dinner table. The host is holding up a glass of wine, and the guest has his head in his hands. The dialogue reads:

Host (of the newest school): 'What d' yer think o' this nineteen-o-six port?'
Guest (of the old school): 'Nineteen-o---! My dear sir, nineteen-hundred-and-six. We are discussing wine, not telephone numbers.'

Anonymous said...

"'Mean 29'? Does it really? I know it sounds like 29 - but would there ever be a context where you wouldn't know whether you were talking about the numeral or the year?"

People often abbreviate years ommitting the reference to the first 2 digits.
So "twenty nine" for most people would refer to 1929, or in the future to 2029. In fact, this seems to be the most common method of referring to years in colloquial usage EXCEPT in the first 2 decades of a century, when it just seems odd to say something like "global financial crisis of nine" as opposed to "the stock market crash of eighty seven" (October 1987)