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« Daniel Drezner Please Meet Public Choice | Main | New Thinking for a New Decade »


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I am curious about this common notion that somehow we are entering a new "decade." Why would people believe a "decade" would end with a numeral "9"? (Or, for that matter, that the 21st century would begin in the year 2000.) Surely 2001 was the first year in the century and the decade, and 2010 is the tenth year in the decade.

A decade is any ten year period, hence if people want 2000-2009 to be "the decade," they can have it that way if they wish. And we so wish. :)

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."

* * *

"Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic."

I subscribe to the latter view. (Thanks to Lewis Carroll.)

For Jule Herbert and Humpty Dumpty for she surely seems to subscribe to the former and not the latter view however she may protest:


Decade - noun

1. a period of ten years: the three decades from 1776 to 1806.

2. a period of ten years beginning with a year whose last digit is zero: the decade of the 1980s.

3. a group, set, or series of ten.

The pedantic point is consistency. If the period 1 AD to 10 AD is the first decade (because there was no 0 AD) then the next decade is 11 AD to 20 AD and so on to 2001 to 2010.

The dictionary cited above is reflecting common usage. But while common usage can be the standard of whether the copyeditor will change what you have written, it cannot square the circle. It cannot simply decree inter-temporal consistency in the usage.


Clearly the dictionary makes it clear that any ten years in sequence can be "a decade." You are certainly correct that if one were to say, "what is the first decade of the twenty-first century?" the answer would be 2001-2010. However, that is not what one says.

People speak of "the 60s" and "the 90s," which are clearly decades and not labeled as "the seventh decade of the twentieth century" etc. Given that the "last decade" ended with 1999, we are at the end of another one, with "the teens just starting," if not "the second decade of the twenty-first century." It remains unclear what this decade just ended will be called, however, as nobody at least in the US seems to much like such formulations as "aughties" or "noughties" or "naughties."

Just being ultra-pedantic, :-).

There surely was a "0 AD" even if no one actually called it by that name.

The dictionary definition holds and is the logical and consistent one.

I think we are closing in on consensus here. I will grant that if "year one AD" should be referred to as "0 AD," then it follows that the last year of the first decade would have been the year "9" -- and so forth, such that 1999 would have been the last year in the tenth decade of the 20th Century.

But, on the other hand, it that is not the case, then perhaps the search for a better dictionary is in order. Happy New Year and Roll Tide.

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