The times of ’0X have ended. We’re in a new decade. It means a lot of cool things, but it can also mean difficulties in communication.
In case you hadn’t already noticed, we just started a new decade a couple of days back. That means that for the first time in ten years, the current year isn’t a number that ends in 0 and then a single digit. We’re no longer in the 2000s. The past decade had a pretty good benefit: almost all of the years have been easy to shorten in speech. When we wanted to quickly mention a recent year, we could just say “oh four” or “oh nine”.
This is where I think we run into an intriguing problem in this new decade though; when someone said the above, we all knew people were talking about the years, because if they were talking about the actual numbers (e.g. 4 and 9), they wouldn’t actually be prefixing zeros to them in speech. Nowadays, if we were to follow the same pronounciation rule as we’ve used so far, we’d just say “ten”. And that’s kinda awkward.
Of course, this problem is not huge in real life; you can always work around it by instead saying the full year number (e.g. 2010), and then there can be no misunderstandings. However, where I really think this oddness applies is software. Some pieces of software and games that appear approximately yearly are named after the year in which they’re released—or the following year. Examples of this are Microsoft Office 2007, iLife ’09 and FIFA 09. Usually, this is in place of the actual version numbers that are hidden somewhere in an About window. Version numbers are overly technical and people can relate to a release year much easier.
The latter two examples are interesting because they abbreviate the year number. The presence of the preceding 0 is the only thing that prevents it from being simply a version number (as in Halo 3). But what happens when we turn a decade and this disappears? How do the software producers react? When the zero disappears, the number on the box might as well be a full version number. While we have yet to see what Apple is going to do, EA didn’t really do anything fancy and just called the newest version FIFA 10. How anti-climactic.
But, when you truly think about it, this isn’t really a new problem. Back before the previous decade, we didn’t have the prefixed 0’s either. I think the reason one could use abbreviated year numbers in terms of software either way back then as well, is because 97 would be way too big a number for a version number (unless Aristotle developed the first version). So it doesn’t really end up being all that confusing. And in terms of speech, whatever year we happen to be in, you can always prepend the abrigded year number with “the year…”, and every strand of even the slightest confusion would be gone. And when we entered the new millenium ten years ago, everyone called it “the year 2000”. It was one of the few year numbers that just proved unable to be abbreviated. Perhaps 2010 is one of those, too.
And, at the end of the day, since we actually have an additional zero in front of the two last digits of the year, it would actually still be correct to continue the current usage pattern and call this year “oh ten”, as comedian Stephen Colbert does in conjunction with a current segment on his show. Although this is probably humour and a parody on the way we’ve pronounced these years so far, it’s still technically correct. Perhaps that’s the way to go.
How would you pronounce this year if you had to abbreviate it?