Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Decades: A Small Rant

 

I just read the following phrase on a blog I frequent (which will remain unnamed to protect the blogger): “I ought to care that a decade is about to end (in 17 days!).” No, it isn’t, unless you are referring to a moving 10-year unit that came into existence in Year 11.

Now I recognize that there are calendar units called “decades” and cultural units called “decades.” They seem to be one year apart. The calendar decades take into account that there was no year “0.” There was the year “1.” Hence, a decade ends on the last day of a ten-year period that starts on the first day of a numbered year ending in “1,” e.g., 2001, 2011, 2021.

Culturally, we have tended to think of decades as beginning in numbered years ending with “0,” e.g., 2000, 2010, 2020. It makes it easy to label the various generations, e.g., millennials, Gen X, etc. Remember the Y2K scare? Disaster was to strike at the start of the new “century,” January 1, 2000.

I have occasionally posted on Facebook about ultra-endurance cycling events. In my summary of, say, the finishers on Race Day 27, some commenter will invariably ask if I am a day off, since the race clock shows their time as 26:xx:xx? So, I gently remind them that there is no Race Day 0, just as I am in my 70th year, which will not be completed for some months yet.

The language of math is complicated, no?

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There are 48 comments.

  1. Full Size Tabby Member

    Among the ways my late father enjoyed annoying people was to point out to a 61 year old that he was living in his seventh decade. 

    • #1
    • December 14, 2019, at 8:27 AM PST
    • 10 likes
  2. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    The same is true of centuries. The 19th century ended in 1899. I also read that blog.

    • #2
    • December 14, 2019, at 8:54 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  3. Rodin Member
    Rodin

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    Among the ways my late father enjoyed annoying people was to point out to a 61 year old that he was living in his seventh decade.

    That’s the spirit!

    • #3
    • December 14, 2019, at 8:56 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  4. Paul Erickson Member

    As someone who worked for four solid years on my company’s Y2K program, I refuse to engage in this “decadent” discussion.

    • #4
    • December 14, 2019, at 9:34 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  5. Bob Thompson Member

    Perhaps I am not sufficiently conventional to meet either standard presented here. I often use the terms decade or century in my conversation or writing to denote any ten year or one hundred year period to which I am referring. Do I need to change that because it’s wrong?

    • #5
    • December 14, 2019, at 9:45 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  6. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    I saw a headline this week about the last full moon of the decade being on Dec 12th at 12:12pm (all 12s). My immediate thought, was the decade has a while year left. However, I will still refer to “the 20’s”, “the 30’s”, “the 80’s”, … It is just more convenient and so necessary with Motley Crue going on tour.

    • #6
    • December 14, 2019, at 10:10 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  7. Clavius Thatcher

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    Among the ways my late father enjoyed annoying people was to point out to a 61 year old that he was living in his seventh decade.

    And that one at 59 is living in one’s 60th year. Age does have a zero year. Your 7th decade starts when you turn 60.

    • #7
    • December 14, 2019, at 10:37 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  8. Clavius Thatcher

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment):

    The same is true of centuries. The 19th century ended in 1899. I also read that blog.

    I beg to differ. The 19th century ended at the start of 1901, just at the 20th century ended at the start of 2001.

    • #8
    • December 14, 2019, at 10:40 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  9. Barfly Member

    Clavius (View Comment):

    I beg to differ. The 19th century ended at the start of 1901, just at the 20th century ended at the start of 2001.

    I had a lot of fun on New Year’s Eve 2000 pointing out that the 3rd millennium of the Christian era was less than a day away. It’s depressing that the basics of counting things haven’t been mastered by so many. What did they spend their Sesame Street time doing, snacking from the paste jar?

    Oh well, such measures of time are arbitrary anyway. One approach that sometimes works is to demonstrate that their math implies that either the week starts on Sunday or ends on Saturday or has eight or six days. It’s fun to watch their fingers move when you do that.

    • #9
    • December 14, 2019, at 11:37 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  10. Clavius Thatcher

    Barfly (View Comment):

    Clavius (View Comment):

    I beg to differ. The 19th century ended at the start of 1901, just at the 20th century ended at the start of 2001.

    I had a lot of fun on New Year’s Eve 2000 pointing out that the 3rd millennium of the Christian era was less than a day away. It’s depressing that the basics of counting things haven’t been mastered by so many. What did they spend their Sesame Street time doing, snacking from the paste jar?

    Oh well, such measures of time are arbitrary anyway. One approach that sometimes works is to demonstrate that their math implies that either the week starts on Sunday or ends on Saturday or has eight or six days. It’s fun to watch their fingers move when you do that.

    The one person whom I gave a pass on the millennium change was my late stepfather. He turned 80 on January 1, 2000 and wanted to claim the millennium in case he didn’t make it another year. As it turned out, he lived almost another 14 years.

    • #10
    • December 14, 2019, at 11:50 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  11. Arahant Member

    Rodin: The language of math is complicated, no?

    Not really. It’s just that most folks are ijits.

    • #11
    • December 14, 2019, at 1:48 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  12. Arahant Member

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Perhaps I am not sufficiently conventional to meet either standard presented here. I often use the terms decade or century in my conversation or writing to denote any ten year or one hundred year period to which I am referring. Do I need to change that because it’s wrong?

    But we really need to bring back the lustrum. It’s at a more human scale.

    • #12
    • December 14, 2019, at 1:49 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  13. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge

    I’ve heard this argument before, and I don’t buy it. The kind of reckoning you’re talking about only makes sense if you’re counting things. It is true that the 21st Century began in 2001. But “the 2000s” began in the year 2000; it would be nonsensical to claim that the year 2000 was part of “the 1900s.”

    It’s the same with decades. A decade is any period of ten years; when we name them, we’re esentially referring to the tens digit. “The nineteen-nineties” is just shorthand for “the ten years that were called nineteen-ninety-something.”

    To claim that the year 2020 doesn’t belong to the 2020s would be silly. Now, if you want to start counting decades and refer to “the 202nd decade,” then I’ll agree that doesn’t start until 2021.

    • #13
    • December 14, 2019, at 4:09 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  14. Clavius Thatcher

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):
    To claim that the year 2020 doesn’t belong to the 2020s would be silly. Now, if you want to start counting decades and refer to “the 202nd decade,” then I’ll agree that doesn’t start until 2021.

    I support your position on the naming. There is a difference between the “1900s” and “the 20th century.” They are offset by 1 year.

    • #14
    • December 14, 2019, at 5:08 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  15. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Perhaps I am not sufficiently conventional to meet either standard presented here. I often use the terms decade or century in my conversation or writing to denote any ten year or one hundred year period to which I am referring. Do I need to change that because it’s wrong?

    But we really need to bring back the lustrum. It’s at a more human scale.

    Is lustrum related to lignite? A curious mind wants to know, yet avoid looking stuff up!

    • #15
    • December 14, 2019, at 6:48 PM PST
    • 1 like
  16. Arahant Member

    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret (View Comment):
    Is lustrum related to lignite? A curious mind wants to know, yet avoid looking stuff up!

    No, it’s a period of five years.

    • #16
    • December 14, 2019, at 6:50 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  17. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Bah. 

    Decades are properly measured by musical styles. For example; the ’80s actually started in 1978, with the unlamented death of disco and the beginning of new wave. 

    • #17
    • December 14, 2019, at 9:54 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  18. Clavius Thatcher

    TBA (View Comment):

    Bah.

    Decades are properly measured by musical styles. For example; the ’80s actually started in 1978, with the unlamented death of disco and the beginning of new wave.

    Yet another definition of decade!

    • #18
    • December 14, 2019, at 10:00 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  19. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    Arahant (View Comment):

    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret (View Comment):
    Is lustrum related to lignite? A curious mind wants to know, yet avoid looking stuff up!

    No, it’s a period of five years.

    So then no relationship to lusting for rum, I take it.

     

    • #19
    • December 15, 2019, at 1:46 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  20. Arahant Member

    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret (View Comment):
    Is lustrum related to lignite? A curious mind wants to know, yet avoid looking stuff up!

    No, it’s a period of five years.

    So then no relationship to lusting for rum, I take it.

    If you’d like.

    • #20
    • December 15, 2019, at 1:59 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  21. Bruce Caward Thatcher
    Bruce Caward Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    What do you mean there was no year 0? If there was a year 1, and there was a year -1, there was a year 0. It’s the one between 1 and -1.

    The people then did not know they were living in “Year 0”, the numbering of our years was not begun until hundreds and hundreds of years later (17 hundred?). These guys were trying to be accurate, but working with iffy data. Ussher came up with Jesus’ birth as 4 BC, fer crying out loud. Those of you who insist on counting from 1 could do yourselves (and the rest of us) a favor and just decide to start counting from one year earlier. There was nothing special about the year you are starting from, except that Jesus turned 4.

    But that year, Year 0, did happen. People did stuff, the world spun on. And the year before that one was (to us) Year 1 BC. Just start from the year before and you will improve the Jesus birthday thing by 25%, making it only 3 BC. And you will line up your years in accordance with basic counting theory. In any sequence of counting by 1, there is always a 0 place.

    If you are going to arbitrarily decide to start counting from something other than 0, why 1? Why not 12, or 9? If counting quantities of things does not begin with 0 things, then you are just making your life a lot harder than it has to be. C’mon, say it out loud: “Whoever said “they” started counting the years with Year 1 was wrong. Whoever said “they” started counting the years with Year 1 was wrong. Whoever . . . .”

    • #21
    • December 15, 2019, at 11:38 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  22. Clavius Thatcher

    Bruce Caward (View Comment):

    What do you mean there was no year 0? If there was a year 1, and there was a year -1, there was a year 0. It’s the one between 1 and -1.

    The people then did not know they were living in “Year 0”, the numbering of our years was not begun until hundreds and hundreds of years later (17 hundred?). These guys were trying to be accurate, but working with iffy data. Ussher came up with Jesus’ birth as 4 BC, fer crying out loud. Those of you who insist on counting from 1 could do yourselves (and the rest of us) a favor and just decide to start counting from one year earlier. There was nothing special about the year you are starting from, except that Jesus turned 4.

    But that year, Year 0, did happen. People did stuff, the world spun on. And the year before that one was (to us) Year 1 BC. Just start from the year before and you will improve the Jesus birthday thing by 25%, making it only 3 BC. And you will line up your years in accordance with basic counting theory. In any sequence of counting by 1, there is always a 0 place.

    If you are going to arbitrarily decide to start counting from something other than 0, why 1? Why not 12, or 9? If counting quantities of things does not begin with 0 things, then you are just making your life a lot harder than it has to be. C’mon, say it out loud: “Whoever said “they” started counting the years with Year 1 was wrong. Whoever said “they” started counting the years with Year 1 was wrong. Whoever . . . .”

    According to Wikipedia, our current numbering of years was devised in 525 and widely adopted after 800 and not globally until the 20th century. To quote:

    This calendar era is based on the traditionally reckoned year of the conception or birth of Jesus of Nazareth, with AD counting years from the start of this epoch, and BC denoting years before the start of the era. There is no year zero in this scheme, so the year AD 1 immediately follows the year 1 BC. This dating system was devised in 525 by Dionysius Exiguus of Scythia Minor, but was not widely used until after 800.[9][10]

    Certainly people marked their years in some way at the time of Jesus’ birth but at that time the west didn’t even have the concept of zero. 

    • #22
    • December 15, 2019, at 12:18 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  23. Rodin Member
    Rodin

    Convention and consistency is the order of the day. If you want to make an appointment with someone — particularly at a distant future date — you have to observe common calendar norms. So the argument that there was a Year 0, that we just arbitrarily decided to have Year 1 BCE and Year 1 CE is both correct and irrelevant to when a calendar “decade” begins and ends.

    A decade, mathematically, is a continuous period 10 years or 3651 days (or 3652, it varies) or…(you get the picture) from any arbitrary starting point. Conventionally you reference a specific “named” decade as the one of a series of decades that began in Year 1 CE (same with centuries starting with the 1st Century CE). But colloquially we have reinserted Year 0 into the series of decades that have run sequentially in the Common Era (but not Century 0).

    • #23
    • December 15, 2019, at 12:46 PM PST
    • 1 like
  24. Bruce Caward Thatcher
    Bruce Caward Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Clavius (View Comment):
    Certainly people marked their years in some way at the time of Jesus’ birth but at that time the west didn’t even have the concept of zero. 

    But it is only zero to us. Who knows what they called it? I imagine it was called many different things by different cultures blooming at the time. Why do we care, from our vantage point here thousands of years later?

    My point is that we, counting from here, can start the counting from whatever year back then we want; we are not beholden to some “they”, or Ussher, or anyone else. If we are going to refer to the coming year as “2020”, that means that two thousand and twenty years – trips for the Earth around the sun – have elapsed since some arbitrary point in the past. If we count them backwards on the morning of January 1st, we would start by saying “Ah, it’s now 2020. If we count back one trip around the sun, that would take us to January 1st, 2019. We are counting trips around the sun. That is one such trip. So we will say ‘one’ (trip around the sun has been accomplished).”. Another trip around the sun, and that makes “two”. We called that year “2018”. If we keep on going, and count two thousand and twenty trips around the sun, we will arrive at the perfectly legitimate and logical next number in the sequence. That number is called “zero”. That is the year that is remarkable (to my knowledge) for nothing else other than it happens to be the year beyond which our reckoning of the years moves into negative territory, by the way our numbers, and the concept of counting, works.

    If we thought it was important at this stage that we actually counted from some huge event – like, say, the birth of Christ – and that was a date we could know for lock-hard certainty, that would be different. If it was actually 4 BC, then we could get everything lined back up by making a small adjustment to the calendar, like was done 400 years ago to get off the Julian system. IIRC, 15 days were added (or subtracted) in October. Somehow the world kept spinning on.

    If we did this, we would only need to make an adjustment of 3 days, not 4. Because when you count things, you start at zero.

    • #24
    • December 15, 2019, at 1:11 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  25. Bruce Caward Thatcher
    Bruce Caward Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Clavius (View Comment):
    This calendar era is based on the traditionally reckoned year of the conception or birth of Jesus of Nazareth, with AD counting years from the start of this epoch, and BC denoting years before the start of the era. There is no year zero in this scheme, so the year AD 1 immediately follows the year 1 BC. This dating system was devised in 525 by Dionysius Exiguus of Scythia Minor, but was not widely used until after 800.[9][10]

    And who says that Dionysius Exiguus was the big counting sheriff of the house? He can’t simply be wrong? Dude didn’t even know about zero.

    Here’s an idea: add to the Wiki page the following: “In 2020 a small adjustment was made to DE’s obviously wrong counting method, and the zero was finally acknowledged. Everybody who was born in year Zero rejoiced, because all their birthdays were now recognized. Dionysis Exiguus, appearing under uncomfortable questioning on Fox, begrudgingly admitted his mistake.”

    • #25
    • December 15, 2019, at 1:26 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  26. Bruce Caward Thatcher
    Bruce Caward Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    If you insist on keeping DE’s counting method, what’s stopping us from including the year Zero in our counting, saving us all of these headaches, and this unending argument. We can just call “Zero” the year before his Year one, that one right there that he is calling “One BC”. Nope, it’s not One BC, it’s Zero.

    This will of course make all the BC years off by one, by our counting method. But who cares? Aristotle did such-and-such in year 430 BC instead of year 431 BC.

    I will trade having to deal with any complaint he might lodge at this point for having us all agree finally that our 2020th year ends on what we call 2020, not 2021.

    • #26
    • December 15, 2019, at 1:40 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  27. Skyler Coolidge

    I appreciate pedantry, as I am a pedant, but we should agree that this is quite small. 

    • #27
    • December 15, 2019, at 5:35 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  28. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    This was a boring tendentious argument twenty years ago, and age hasn’t improved it. 

    • #28
    • December 15, 2019, at 6:02 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  29. Steve C. Member

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):

    I’ve heard this argument before, and I don’t buy it. The kind of reckoning you’re talking about only makes sense if you’re counting things. It is true that the 21st Century began in 2001. But “the 2000s” began in the year 2000; it would be nonsensical to claim that the year 2000 was part of “the 1900s.”

    It’s the same with decades. A decade is any period of ten years; when we name them, we’re esentially referring to the tens digit. “The nineteen-nineties” is just shorthand for “the ten years that were called nineteen-ninety-something.”

    To claim that the year 2020 doesn’t belong to the 2020s would be silly. Now, if you want to start counting decades and refer to “the 202nd decade,” then I’ll agree that doesn’t start until 2021.

    Excellent. I share your sensibility. While the counting argument is correct, it’s also a bit pedantic. We all, well most of us anyway, understand the common usage. 

    • #29
    • December 15, 2019, at 6:06 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  30. Steve C. Member

    TBA (View Comment):

    Bah.

    Decades are properly measured by musical styles. For example; the ’80s actually started in 1978, with the unlamented death of disco and the beginning of new wave.

    Did the 60s start in 1957 with Bill Hayley and Buddy Holly? Or in 1963 with the Beatles? 

    • #30
    • December 15, 2019, at 6:12 PM PST
    • 3 likes