BBC News Magazine

Page last updated at 12:20 GMT, Thursday, 31 December 2009

Decade dilemma - whatever to name it?

By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

As the next decade approaches, a multitude of journalists and the occasional member of the public are frantically searching for a good term to describe it.

The year 2010
This year will prompt head-scratching

The first problem in the search to name the next decade is that the decade just past never really had one.

In 1999 and 2000, various terms were floated. The "twenty-hundreds" and the "Os" never hit the mark and the "double Os" and the "nillies" also sank without trace.

Only the "noughties" really gained any currency.

According to an unscientific search of the LexisNexis newspaper database, the first reference in the UK to the possibility of using the term "noughties" came in a letter to the Independent all the way back in 1990. Since then, there have been in the region of 1,000 references.

But this term was always going to struggle to be universal. As the decade got under way, Douglas Coupland noted that the "[Noughties] won't work because in America the word 'nought' is never used for zero, never ever".

Whatever term is coined for the coming decade will hit the same barriers to acceptance, even in just the English-speaking world.

So far suggestions include the "2010s", "tens" or "10s", "teens" "tensies", "teensies" and "ten-sions", with the "one-ders" even winning a competition in Australia.

Women in bathing suits in the 1920s
This decade apparently roared

And it's not simply just a question of looking back to the beginning of the 20th Century for guidance.

Even now, people in the UK at least, refer to the decade before 1910 as the Edwardian era. The decade after was dominated by World War I, and for many needed no further description.

Indeed, as Tony Thorne, language and innovation consultant at King's College London, acidly noted in a debate on the BBC Radio 4's PM: "We didn't have this mania for categorising everything."

It's largely a media obsession to tackle the naming of a decade in such a calculated way, particularly before it's even begun.

If a name is to stick, it will stick only with hindsight. People only need the term when they are putting on nostalgic discos or writing histories.

In the past, decades have not just had names, but also prefixes. So we have the "Naughty Nineties", that decade of sinful abandon. That's the 1890s of course.

People may have commented on the good times and loose morals of the 1890s as they were progressing, but it seems the phrase "Naughty Nineties" was not coined until much later.

Justin de Villeneuve and Twiggy
This decade apparently swung

Then there was the "Roaring Twenties" and some even used the term "Hungry Thirties" for the Depression era, echoing the "Hungry Forties" moniker for the 1840s. And it is practically a disciplinary offence for journalists to write "Sixties" without first writing "Swinging".

Of course, the whole naming debate is a pedant's gold mine.

There are many who get in touch with news organisations to express ire at the assertion that 2009 is the end of the decade, noting there is no year zero in the Anno Domini dating system.

That the whole system is the work of a Sixth Century Romanian monk, and the year zero convention was only established by the Venerable Bede in the Seventh Century, seems not to matter.

And for many people, any name without a greengrocer's apostrophe is a good one. So as long as it's not the 10's, maybe we'll be OK.

Here is a selection of your comments.

The "Deccas" as in "decimal" for ten and new "decade".
Catherine, Basingstoke

Call it D2 (ie the second decade).
Mike Bradshaw, Liverpool

Well it can only be Tenties. As it goes with the Noughties, Twenties, Thirties, Forties, Fifties, Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and Nineties. It just makes sense everybody.
Devpal Mann, London, UK

How about the two-teens?
Simon O'Toole, Sydney, Australia

It's surely the twenty-tensies? Twenty Noughties, Twenty Tensies, Twenty Twenties and so on. "Twenty Teenies" can't be, because three of them aren't "teens".
Christopher Reeves, Reading, England

The Tenters (as in hooks). Looks like we'll be on them.
Simon, London

How About the Noughtie Tenners?
Shane Davies, London

How can you call it the teens? That won't happen til 2013 so do we forget the first three years. The tens looks good to me.
Paulo, England

Let's just go with the "in-betweenies".
Jo Henderson, Sutton Coldfield

I have since the start of the century been calling it the "twenty hundreds" - reason being the last one was the nineteen hundreds, and nineteen nineties. So by my reckoning after that comes twenty. Happy New Year twenty ten, all.
Cheryl, Boston

There are 365 days left of the 2001-2010 decade anyway, so I don't see what all the fuss is about.
Robin Bailey, Cambridge

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