The M-word Misnomer
1999 was the penultimate year of the 20th Century, but no one payed attention. Thankfully that’s over with, so we can get back pretending that 12:00 pm isn’t a contradiction.
I know I’m not the only one sick of this so-called New Millennium crap. Thankfully, it appears that the even more annoying term “Y2K” has been commonly accepted to refer only to the January 1 transition period, and Loudon Wainwright’s song of the same name can return to the shelf and start gathering dust along with the rest of his records.
Guess what, kids: we’re not in the New Millennium yet. Not only that, we’re still in the 20th Century! The mathematics of it is mindlessly simple:
- A century is 100 years. Likewise, a millennium is 1000.
- Our totally arbitrary year numbering system, invented sometime in the Dark Ages by a monk who got his calculations wrong, has no year 0. If our calendar had existed at the time of Jesus, we would have gone from December 31, 1 BC to January 1, 1 AD, probably drunk on mead.
- Therefore, the first century AD (CE to secular scholars) went from 1 to 100, a duration of 100 years. The second century went from 101 to 200, and so forth, so the 20th Century began in 1901 and ends at the end of this year, 2000.
- Of course, the same thing goes for the millennium. (The proof is left to the reader.)
Now, I’m not saying that there’s no significance in the Big Odometer Rollover we just experienced. I mean, it’s hard enough to reprogram your check-writing autopilot every year, let alone get used to the idea that the 1900’s, the only era any of us has ever known (except Willard Scott’s fan club), are over. However, I’ve not yet miswritten last year’s date this year, a mute testament to the powerful mental effect of Living In The Year 2000.
Goddamn! We’re living in the future! So all our lavish celebrations were justified, only misnamed. And there’s no reason why we can’t have another, and just as major, bash when the 21st Century really does arrive in 2001.
But of course I’m nit-picking. Few people understand that 12PM is a misnomer for 12 noon, so why should anyone grasp that there’s a one year offset between the 1900’s and the 20th Century?
To get right down to it, I figured out why everyone’s pretending this is the 21st Century. It’s because we, collectively, have not yet decided what to call this brand new era we’re living in, and we have an innate need to name things before we can assimilate them. We left the nineteen hundreds for what—the “two thousands?” The Nineties are over, are these the Naughts?
Nah… “naught” is much too archaic-sounding for this futuristic decade… my nomination is “aught,” as in “I walked on the moon in aught-five.” Aught is a 19th Century alteration of the much-older naught, which in word-years makes it barely a teenager, and its simple pronunciation is well-suited to the modern age of brevity.
I believe we have two choices: to hurry and make up our minds as to our new decade’s name, or to spend the rest of 2000 in an ignorant limbo, waiting for time to make us right again. Time’s a-wasting! Less than a year to go!