The issue of dates is interesting me at the moment. Not the romantic sort (well…), no, the passage-of-time sort, and specifically those in this now-not-quite-so-new-Millennium. We’ve touched on the issue of how we refer to these new years a couple of times already here, thinking about the original uncertainty over what we’d call the year 2000, and continuing into debate over the naming of the decade of 2000-2009, and the current question of how to refer to the years 2010-2019. The one that actually got me started on this, though, was what to call this year – two thousand and ten or twenty-ten. Two thousand and ten seemed more comfortable, hot on the heels of two thousand and nine, but two thousand and twenty-three would be a bit of a mouthful (I like to plan ahead).
What struck me about it all, though, was just how unimportant the whole question would have been at the beginning of the last century. Although there probably was some debate about what to call the decade 1900-1909, I expect it involved a limited section of the population – the upper and middle classes. The working man and woman probably had far more important things on their minds, like feeding their families. They probably rarely wrote letters (and of course not everyone could read and write). The issues of their lives were much more immediate and they probably had little use for the kind of navel-gazing (personal and societal) that we all enjoy so much today.
There were no computers, no email, no mobile phones and no television. The masses simply didn’t use the date in the way we do now; for many it was probably enough simply to know when they were born (and I’m guessing not everyone knew even that). There was no need for a pithy word for the first decade of the new century – it’s not like anyone was going to be producing a TV round-up of the key events, after all! – and most people probably never even stopped to wonder whether nineteen-ten would be better than nineteen hundred and ten. If we were to borrow HG Wells’ time machine and step back a hundred years and ask the average person-on-the-street what they thought would be best, I suspect they’d look at us like we were mad. And as we climbed back aboard our magical means of transport, they’d probably be thinking that 2010 must be a fabulously safe and comfortable time, if the biggest thing we have to worry about is what to call this year…
(After much consideration, I settled on twenty-ten, by the way, since I was already saying twenty-twelve for the year the ancient Mayans believed the world would end – good job I’ve got my priorities straight!)Email this Post