The Linguistic Version of Y2K: The Two Thousand Ten Meltdown

This is our final blog entry of the year, actually of the decade. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who could have predicted the various fits and starts of the renewable energy market, let alone the explosive growth towards the end of the decade for the solar industry.  But my prediction is that we are poised for continuous substantial growth at least through the next six years.

As we bid farewell to the decade, I could not help but think about the beginning of this decade and the predictions of doom and gloom as the Y2K threat loomed large. I admit that as this decade started, I was not a solar enthusiast as I am today. When it is below zero outside, even on a clear day, you do not think about solar energy–although you should. Just ask the folks in Ontario.

As we approached the New Year ten years ago, I was more concerned about what we were going to call this decade. I remember that this attractive undergrad stuck her head out of the window and shouted something that almost completely eluded me. “I’m a double-O!” I was walking my dog and had on an old college sweatshirt. It took a few moments before I realized that she was referring to her graduation year. I knew then that we were in for a challenging linguistic decade.

The Y2K threat came and went without the damage predicted by so many. I spent New Year’s with my family and in-laws in St. Petersburg, Russia. The only bombshell on that New Year’s Eve was the President of Russia’s resignation, and quick anointment of his young successor, the relatively unknown Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The year would become known in English as “The Year 2000,” although it is quite unclear why anyone would bother placing the redundant “year” in front of 2000. We certainly have never called any year “The Year,” – not 1900, although I confess that none of the historians I consulted were able to tell me with confidence how the Year 1000 was known. Other peoples do not suffer through this linguistic angst. Russian speakers are consistent, referring to every year by its numerical designation followed by the word “Year.”

And our problems only just started with the Year 2000. For most of the decade we struggled with the names for the years. Most used the “full name” for the year. Thus, Bush was inaugurated in two thousand one, and Obama won the election in two thousand eight (even so some tried to insert the incorrect and pretentious “and” between thousand and eight.)

As the decade has been winding down, our ideological purity has given way to economy of words. Although jarring to my ear, a minority have begun to bastardize our year by calling it twenty-o-nine. No other language economizes the zero with an o, but that should not surprise us when everything fast and economical reigns supreme in our daily lives. Time is money, as they say. Woe to the historians who will have to talk about the 2000’s, the two thousands, or possibly worse, the incoming decade of the two thousand tens.

Most news media gallantly maintained their linguistic purity throughout most of the decade, talking about two thousand ten, and the upcoming election in two thousand twelve. The bond traders were never convinced. They always sold twenty-fifteen bonds, never two thousand fifteen bonds. But as 2010 approaches, and the decade winds down, few can resist the economical twenty-ten. The die was cast by the song “In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus).” The lyrics pointedly did not refer to the year “two thousand five hundred twenty five” – it would never have made it to number one on the billboard charts in one thousand nine hundred sixty nine.

As this year comes to a close, we bid to you, a year filled with the sun, and look forward to the New Year of new solar possibilities.  But as much as I would like to greet two thousand ten, I know that when the cork on the champagne is uncorked on New Year’s Eve, we will welcome the New Year, twenty ten.

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One Response to “The Linguistic Version of Y2K: The Two Thousand Ten Meltdown”

  1. Mark says:

    Great article. Those electric companies are getting rich of us anyhow!