The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

2:10pm on Sunday, 2nd January, 2005:

2020 Vision


So, it's the year 2005.

How do you pronounce that, "2005"? Do you say "two thousand and five", like most people? Or do you say "twenty oh five" like everyone used to do for dates before the year 2000 came along?

You can tell this has been annoying me for some time, right?

1901 is "nineteen oh one"; 1066 is "ten sixty-six". Even 875 is "eight seventy-five". Why is 2005 "two thousand and five" when by all precedent it should be "twenty oh five"?

OK, so I realise I'm wasting my breath here somewhat. I gave up saying "twenty hundred" myself in the late 1990s when I had to explain it was "the year two thousand" for the twenty-hundredth time (although I still refuse to acknowledge that this was the first year of the new century; it was the first year of a century, sure, but not the century. In 1900, newspapers in the UK mocked those countries celebrating the arrival of the new century a whole year early; how times change...).

So instead, I'll speculate as to when/whether the tide will turn. Will we ever start referring to the current year as "twenty" something again, or will we be stuck with "two thousand and" until we reach 2100?

When you look at a year such as 2038 (when most C-based software's time/date format runs out of bits — if you thought Y2K was a big fuss over nothing, just you wait), how do you pronounce it? TV newsreaders would probably go for "twenty thirty-eight". What about something closer to home, say 2015? I've heard announcers call that "twenty fifteen" on the radio. 2009, though, is still going to be "two thousand and nine".

There are three key years where me may see change. The first big test comes at 2010. Is that "twenty ten" or "two thousand and ten"? Well from here, it looks like it should be "twenty ten", but you have to remember that when it comes round it will be following 2009. If people think it's fine to say "two thousand and nine", maybe they'll figure that they should continue with "two thousand and ten"?

The next key year is 2013. In English, we have special names for all our numbers up to 12 and then we turn to logic (the French have to wait until 16 before the special names stop — 15 is quinze rather than dix-cinq). If people go for "two thousand and ten", OK, there's a chance they'll switch to "twenty eleven" the next year but it's not, I believe, as likely as going with the flow; the same applies to 2012. When 2012 changes to 2013, though, there's a stronger challenge because we've run out of special names for low-order numbers. 13 sounds like a two-digit number in a way that 10 doesn't: it won't surprise you to hear that a neighbour of mine when I was a kid told me his grandad was born in "nineteen oh ten". Ten sounds like one more than nine; thirteen sounds like a two-digit number. This vague sense of numeracy could be enough to flip us from "two thousand and" to "twenty".

Even if we don't change to "twenty thirteen", "two thousand and thirteen" is such a mouthful that I expect the "and" to be quietly dropped, after the American fashion ("two thousand thirteen", rather than "two thousand and thirteen"). Practicality does have an influence.

"Two thousand thirteen" is almost a point of no return: if we don't call it "twenty thirteen", we're in for the long haul. There's one final obstacle, though: 2020. In the same way that people got 2000 ingrained in their brains following the collective decision on how to pronounce 2001: A Space Odyssey, many people have it in their heads that 2020 is "twenty twenty", as in "20 20 vision" (a term we use in the UK despite the fact that opticians here never accepted it as any kind of standard — it's a US thing). Thus, we may see as seamless a transition from "two thousand nineteen" to "twenty twenty" as we did from "nineteen ninety-nine" to "two thousand". The cycle will end 20 years after it began, with the same disregard for convention in favour of sounds-like-it-should-be informality that got it started in the first place.

People in the year 2105 are going to look back at this and think we were all mad...

Referenced by 20002.

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Copyright © 2005 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).