By Brendan Loy
On Monday, NPR aired a story on the question of what’s the proper way to pronounce the year 2010. Is it “two-thousand ten,” or “twenty ten”?
To me, the answer is obviously the latter. The only reason we’ve been saying “two-thousand one,” “two-thousand two,” etc., is because it feels awkward to say “twenty-oh-one,” “twenty-oh-two,” and so forth. (For some reason, “nineteen-oh-one” doesn’t feel so verbally awkward, and neither will “twenty-one-oh-one.” Yet “twenty-oh-one” sounds horrible. I’m not sure why. Possibly because “twenty” ends with a vowel sound?)
But of course, you can’t simply call 2001 “twenty-one,” or 2009 “twenty-nine,” because those are completely different numbers (21, 29). So, instead of the awkward “twenty-oh-nine” or the incorrect “twenty-nine,” we’ve been using the longer (but not too long) “two thousand nine.” No “oh,” no inaccuracy. Hence: the terrorist attacks of September 11, two-thousand one. George W. Bush’s victory in the two-thousand four election. The epic USC-Notre Dame game on October 15, two-thousand five. The financial crisis of two-thousand eight. Et cetera, et cetera.
The “twenty-oh-whatever” verbal awkwardness goes away next year, though — and meanwhile, the “two thousand”-based pronunciations start to get more and more unwieldy. When will it end, if not now? Two thousand eleven? Two thousand nineteen? Two thousand twenty-one? Two thousand one hundred one? Surely we will, at some point, revert to the pronunciation scheme that we’ve used throughout modern history, splitting the year’s number into two parts of two digits each. And, since it’s going to happen sometime, there’s no reason on God’s green earth why it shouldn’t happen next year, what with the disappearance of the “oh” removing the sole reason we got into this linguistic mess in the first place.
At least, I don’t think there’s a reason. What’s frustrating about the NPR story, though, is that it doesn’t really address this issue, or provide any reasonable counterarguments for why 2010 actually should be called “two thousand ten.” Maybe that’s because there are no such arguments, but surely the advocates of this position can do better than some guy (Jim Burk) citing 2001: A Space Odyssey — which is totally irrelevant because, as I’ve stated above, 2001 is a completely different case, due to that awkward intervening “oh” before the “one” — and some other guy (Jimm Lasser) saying it’s more “grownup” to use the longer form instead of the “nickname.” (Did “grownups” call 1999 “one thousand, nine hundred ninety-nine”? Was “nineteen ninety-nine” a “nickname”? Will “grownups” call 2086 “two thousand eighty-six”? Will they call 2234 “two thousand, two hundred thirty-four”? Why didn’t Robert Siegel ask Mr. Lasser these questions?)
By the way: what did they call it in 2010: Odyssey Two? That’s obviously the correct reference, notwithstanding Mr. Burk’s silly reference to the irrelevant original movie. But I don’t recall: was it called twenty-ten or two-thousand-ten in the sequel? Anyone know?
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