Editors and word experts have been in a state of near-total anxiety since before the clocks turned from 1999 to 2000 (remember that?). The cause of this angst (which actually started sometime in the mid-90s) has been an inability to come up with a suitable nickname for the decade just hours away from departure. Is it the “Aughts” (as in “Two-Thousand-Aught-Nine”)? The “Ohs?” The “Oh-Ohs?” The “Zeroes?” (Does this even matter any longer? They seem to think so.)
The “Two Thousands?” The “Aughties?” The “Naughties” (as in “there’s ‘naught’ as queer as folk”)? (Do you need an aspirin yet?) To some, this is a linguistic disaster of epic proportions (who needs to wait for 2012?). On the other hand, not everything that should be defined gets to be defined. (Need some examples? There’s never been a catchy sobriquet to call one’s former in-laws [‘out-laws’ never caught on]. And what do you call the younger significant other of an older partner? The phenomenon is widespread [hence the identification – whether deserved or not – of “cougars,” “sugar daddies,” etc.], but a suitable moniker hasn’t stuck. It sounds odd for a 70-year-old to refer to his “girlfriend,” but “companion” sounds more like a nurse than a better half, and “partner” smacks of a gay relationship or business arrangement. The Census Bureau has offered the ponderous POSSLQ – meaning Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters; makes you want to crank the Barry White right up, doesn’t it? The quest goes on…)
The inability of word experts and philologists to arrive at a consensus name for the first decade of the millennium isn’t a new phenomenon. Experts say they’ve never had a handy way to refer to the first ten years of a hundred-year cycle (not in the same way that the “20s,” “60s” or “80s” roll off the tongue). The Twenty Hundreds? Too long. The “Aughties?” Too silly sounding. The “Aughts?” That was what wordsmiths referred to the years between 1900 and 1909, but it hasn’t stuck around. Interestingly (interestingly?), the naming of decades is a modern tradition; people at the turn of the last century didn’t care that much. Ah, the good old days.