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it's 2005 and we still don't have a name for the decade

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://hnn.us/roundup/entries/9346.html Timothy Noah: We Still Don t Have a Name for the first Decade of the 21st Century Timothy Noah, in the Ottawa Citizen
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2005
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      http://hnn.us/roundup/entries/9346.html

      Timothy Noah: We Still Don't Have a Name for the first
      Decade of the 21st Century

      Timothy Noah, in the Ottawa Citizen (12-30-04):

      The precise midpoint of the 21st century's first
      decade will arrive on Saturday. You'd think by now the
      English-speaking world would have given this decade a
      name.

      Back in the early 1980s, The New York Times tried to
      pre-empt all future uncertainty by pronouncing it the
      "ohs." But nobody bit. Robert Thompson, president of
      the Popular Culture Association, told Harry Wessel of
      the Orlando Sentinel that a consensus term would start
      to jell before the end of 1999. More than a year
      later, Andy Bowers of National Public Radio (and now
      Slate) was still taking suggestions. Four additional
      years have passed since then. Half of the 21st
      century's first decade is gone and still no one knows
      what to call it.

      The most logical candidate is a term often used to
      describe the first decade of the 20th century: the
      "aughts." But despite heavy promotion from journalists
      and others, it's never caught on. (It must have struck
      most folks as too archaic -- note my compulsion to
      surround it with quotation marks -- or perhaps too
      precious.) In 1996, Barbara Walraff of The Atlantic
      reported in her "Word Court" column that there was
      much talk of calling the coming decade the
      "double-ohs." That never caught on, either. Scott
      Pederson, a self-described "entrepreneur," somehow
      managed to get a trademark on "Naughty Aughties,"
      which is even more creaky than the "aughts," and he's
      been promoting that term energetically ever since.
      "Become an official licensee of Naughty Aughties," he
      invites visitors to his website, "and capitalize on
      this once in a century licensing opportunity." Strike
      three.

      By not coming up with a name, society has created a
      serious rhetorical problem that spills over into the
      social sciences. It's a problem very much like that of
      the blind man who tries to size up an elephant in the
      famous parable. Because there is no name for the
      present decade, people seeking to describe the spirit
      of the times often resort to substituting the name of
      the entire century (or, in extreme cases, the entire
      millennium). This is pompous and stupid.

      Some people would go further and say that measuring
      time as a progression of decades, each with an
      individual identity, is pompous and stupid. I don't go
      that far. I can live with the oversimplification
      inherent in using a phrase like "the '60s" to describe
      the political and cultural tumult that characterized
      the last few years of that decade, or "the '20s" to
      describe the reckless stock investments and giddy
      lifestyles of the wealthy that would end with the
      stock market crash and the Great Depression. I'm even
      ready to characterize the current decade as an era
      when the United States came under attack from Islamist
      terrorists and responded (not always wisely) by waging
      war in the Middle East.

      But to refer to these as challenges of the 21st
      century presumes that we know a lot more about what
      will happen during the next 95 years than we really do.
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