The teens and numeracy

I wouldn’t bother with this silly post were it not for some know-it-all who phoned in to Talk of the Nation, while they were talking about the “10 worst ideas of the decade,” and proceeded to tell us that the decade won’t be over for another year, and that “mathematically literate people” all knew that.

To which I say, horsepucky.

I’d guess I’m at least as numerate as this fellow (of course it was a fellow), and as far as I’m concerned the decade ends in another 10 days–just as the 20th century ended on December 31, 1999 and the 2nd millennium also ended on that day.

But there was no year zero!

This is, of course, the standard rejoinder or complaint of the “onesians”–those who insist that the next decade won’t begin until January 31, 2011: “There was no year zero; it started with year one.”

Horsepucky. Or, if you prefer, great big gobs of steaming bovine excrement.

It’s true that there was no year zero. But there was also no year one or year two or, well, any year up until 500 or so. Or, alternatively, there was a year zero, and a year -1, and a year -2, and…

CE years were all back-numbered to the presumed birth year of Jesus of Nazareth, and as far as historians can guesstimate that was somewhere around 6 BC. But that backnumbering didn’t happen until the sixth century anyway…

The teens

No, I’m not referring to people who are 13 to 19 years old. I’m referring to simple common sense as regards actual decades, to wit:

  • A decade is a period of ten years. Any period of ten years–e.g., my first decade was 1945-1954.
  • Maybe the teens isn’t the right word for 2010-2019, but whatever that word is, it will reference the “1”–just as “the oughts” as a term for 2000-2009 references that 0 in the third position. The shorthand works from 0 through 9. The nineties ended in 1999; saying they ended in 2000 is just strange.

You’re entirely welcome to disagree. And if you can show me historical records from the time, with people noting that December 31, 1BC, was immediately followed by January 1, 1AD, I might even listen to you. Somehow, I doubt that such records exist…

Or, you know, you could focus on something more important, which includes almost everything. (Know what made me feel really warm yesterday? We watched the featurettes on New in Town–which was actually quite an amusing movie. The movie’s set in New Ulm, Minnesota, and the cold winter’s definitely a character, but apparently Minnesota wasn’t quite right for the filming. It actually filmed in the vicinity of Winnipeg…in January…including some scenes shot between midnight and 5 a.m. Hearing Harry Connick, Jr. (from New Orleans) talk about making a movie at minus 57 degrees (at that point, Fahrenheit and Celsius don’t make much nevermind, since -57F = about -50C)…priceless. And seeing Renee Zellweger taking pratfalls in the snow at that same -57, and walking around in an above-the-knee skirt in that weather…wow. What some people do to make a movie! )

One Response to “The teens and numeracy”

  1. Blake says:

    I thought the same damn thing. (Though I thought it was an email they read?) My first thought was “That guy must be a librarian, sounds like something we’d say.”