Facing a New Year of Blatant Mispronunciation
Another shiny new twenty-first century year is upon us, and with it comes another opportunity to address one of my favorite peeves: the proper way to pronounce a twenty-first century year.
2015. It's “twenty-fifteen.” Period.
I know, I know.......you're going to hear “two-thousand fifteen” everywhere as the unenlightened among us continue to abuse the form. You may even be forced to listen to the nails-on-a-blackboard intonations of those who insist on “two-thousand AND fifteen.” But take my word for it, folks; it's twenty-fifteen.
According to a poll conducted by CNN at the beginning of 2014 (that's “twenty-fourteen”), forty-six percent of Americans planned to correctly say “twenty-fourteen” while an obstinate fifty-two percent intended to keep blabbering “two-thousand fourteen.” (I imagine the remaining two percent were the “two-thousand AND fourteen” crowd.) This is a good thing in terms of the survival of humanity because it represents a significant increase in right-thinking people over the previous decade. But, unfortunately, it is still a long uphill battle.
It all started at the turn of the current century. Up until the opening year of the twenty-first interval, things had been fairly simple and straightforward: you had seventeen-hundred, eighteen-hundred, nineteen-hundred, etc. But when the year 2000 came along, nobody – yours truly included – was going to say “twenty-hundred.” So “two-thousand” became the official term for the 365-day interim. Logically, everything should have defaulted to the historically set pattern the following year and we should have started the progression with “twenty-oh-one,” “twenty-oh-two,” twenty-oh-three,” and so on. But we didn't. And I think Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick are partly to blame.
Popular usage and popular culture are powerful influences on society. For some reason, the '60s pop cultural icon that was “2001: A Space Odyssey” got rendered right from the beginning as “two-thousand one.” Nobody ever called it “Twenty-oh-one: A Space Odyssey.” And when the actual calendar year of 2001 rolled around, the popular reference just kind of stuck. I think I was the only broadcaster on the planet who insisted it was “twenty-oh-one” that year. The popular odds were definitely against me. I thought, “Well, it'll pass next year and people will come back around to the proper sequence.” I couldn't have been more wrong.
Thing is, there's no precedent for it. No logical reason. No historical pattern. Think about it: when we moved forward from 1900 (nineteen-hundred, as opposed to one-thousand nine-hundred), did we go to one-thousand nine-hundred and one? Of course not. The year was commonly expressed as “nineteen-oh-one.” Was Lincoln assassinated in one-thousand eight-hundred sixty-five? Did the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor in one-thousand nine-hundred forty-one? Did we land on the moon in one-thousand nine-hundred and sixty-nine? Ridiculous, right? Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” in “fourteen-hundred and ninety-two,” not in “one-thousand four-hundred and ninety-two.” Heck, go back to the dawn of the last millennium. Did the Norman Conquest happen in one-thousand sixty-six? Nope. It was ten sixty-six. Nobody ever says otherwise. So why, on the upcoming one-thousandth anniversary of the event, will some people likely still be saying “two-thousand sixty-six?” I don't know. It's beyond me. It is unsound, absurd, preposterous thinking at best. To quote Mr. Spock, “ Quite illogical.”
We're moving in the right direction. I've noticed lately that announcers, newscasters, etc. are leaning more toward “twenty” whatever and are using “two-thousand” less frequently. It's still about a fifty-fifty proposition, but overall it's a lot better than it was ten years ago.
Of course, ten years ago we were all struggling with what to call the decade itself. That problem is a constant no matter what the century. Once you get into the “teens,” it becomes simple. From there you go to the “twenties,” “thirties,” “forties,” '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. But those first ten years are always a bugaboo. You can't call them the “ohs” and you can't call them the “aughts” without sounding like your great-grandfather. “I remember back in aught-one......” Thank you, no. But until the current millennium, we never had trouble with what to call the individual year. My parents were born in nineteen-fifteen and nineteen-eighteen, respectively. My sisters were born in nineteen-forty-one and nineteen-forty-six. And anyone who tried to say that I was born in one-thousand nine-hundred and fifty-five would have been branded a loony tune.
There is one small glimmer of hope on the horizon and it will occur in five years. In 2020. In the same way that the year 2001 had the force of popular usage behind it, so, too, does the number 2020. There's a popular TV news program called 20/20 (pronounced “twenty-twenty). And perfect vision is commonly cited as 20/20. It is, therefore, my belief and fervent hope that that year will be popularly expressed in the same manner rather than as “two-thousand twenty.” I think perhaps something with a strong common association will break the cycle begun at the turn of the century and we'll all get back on track in twenty twenty-one, twenty twenty-two, twenty twenty-three and on into the future.
Walter Cronkite had a signature sign-off; “And that's the way it is........” and he would then note the date. When he signed off for the last time, he said, “And that's the way it is, Friday, March sixth, nineteen eighty-one.” Had that leave-taking occurred thirty-four years later, I would like to think he would not have said “two thousand fifteen.” He would, in the manner of a thoughtful, logical professional, have instead expressed the date as “March sixth, twenty-fifteen.” That's the way it is and that's the way it should be.