Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The end of the whatchamacallit decade

Next week we reach the end of the decade that never was.

Think about it. Have you ever heard anyone use a term to describe these last ten years? I haven't. Sure, back when we partied like it was 1999, we talked about calling this decade the "aughts." But if I gave you a nickel for every time someone has actually used that phrase, you'd have, well, nothing. Same with the "oh-oh's," but even more so, because that sounds too much like "uh-oh." Or, as the Jetsons' dog Astro would say, "rut-row."

The 2000s don't count, because that is a millennium. We get to use that one for the next thousand years. And while we're at it, we've lost a whole century here as well - history teachers who blandly talk about things like the 1600s will find themselves tongue-tied describing the first hundred years of this new era. And so we disappear into mute silence about a large chunk of our history.

Radio stations were among the first to develop corporate amnesia about this decade, using phrases like "hits of the 80s, 90s, and today." Do you think that ten years from now, they will be talking about hits of the 90s, the aughts, and today? I didn't think so either. And now, all those news shows and countdowns reviewing the last decade are coming up with a novel way to describe it: "the last decade."

Perhaps it's the growing realization that the 90s will soon be 20 years old. That people who were born after Wang Chung broke up have children of their own now. Or worst of all, that the next ten years aren't going to get any better: even if you wanted to talk about "the teens," you can't do that until 2013, and probably don't want to anyway. Whatever it is, our nomenclature for dates has succeeded in creating a massive vacuum in history.

This will all get better in 2020, of course. If we are doing well economically by then we could even make like our great-grandparents and call it the Roaring 20s. After that we'll be OK again for another 80 years or so. In the meantime, we could perhaps make like the Chinese, who simply refer to this as the Year of the Ox (or by number as the year 4705, 4706, or 4645, depending upon which epoch you use). Or better yet, stop trying to fit time and history into neat decade-long boxes. That's what I think we "aught" to do.

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