More on time spans: This time, decades

More on time spans: This time, decades

Note: Thanks to reader and commenter Jack for this idea from his comment on my previous post.

The glory of a system based on counting to ten is that we don’t need to figure out multiples of six, seven or anything else.

My previous post, “Spanning three centuries — here? Not exactly,” available here, looked at the idea that a company’s product “spanning three centuries” wasn’t 300 years old. We’d need to reach the 300th anniversary for that to happen.

But here we are again with a year ending in nine. I’m not hearing yet about “ending the second decade of the millennium” — but I expect to, if previous years with nines are any indication.

That’s as wrong as trying to pay someone ten dollars and stopping at nine — or saying “Have I paid you anything?” and, on hearing “No,” saying “Count the zero.”

If I pay someone ten dollars, I pay them dollars one through ten. The same thing, logically, should happen with decades.

The new millennium began in 2001 because a millennium lasts 1,000 years — and there was no “year zero.” I spent much of 1999 almost chanting that the turn of the millennium had “Two Ms, two Ls, two Ns, but not 2000.”

It was fine to talk in 2009 about the hysteria “a decade ago” about the Y2K computer problem and the change from writing years as two digits to writing them as four (99 to 2000, for example). In 2009, that was a decade ago — it happened in 1999.

But when counting the decades in a career, as in the comment on my previous post, 1980 should not count as part of the decade of the 1980s. The first decade was A.D. 1-10, so the second one began in the year 11, the next in 21, and so on. The 1970s, then, lasted from 1971-1980, and the decade of the ’80s began with 1981.

So don’t worry about the decade of the 2010s ending quite yet.

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Filed under: Expressions


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  • I see you commented on the Minnie Minoso point yesterday.

    There's something similar with CTA vehicle numbers. Bus series start with something like 7900, so 7932 was the 33rd bus delivered.. On the other hand, L cars start with xx01, so 3200 was actually a 2600 series car (599 more than 2601, the first 3200 series car being 3201).

  • In reply to jack:

    Minnie Minoso. Hit a homer first time at bat in the big leagues. Never met a pitch that shouldn't hit him. Mr. Hustle.
    I got his autograph when he visited the last school I taught at, Rachel Carson, on the Southside. Bumped into him in the office at the end of a summer school day. He signed an envelope on I got from the school clerk. I shook his hand. His throwing hand.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Thanks, AW. I came along too late to find more than his last few "publicity stunt" games. Not being primarily a baseball follower (surprise!), I have to do a little "translating," but I did figure out that he's like Gordie Howe in hockey, who played so long that he was playing with his sons. (I saw Howe's last game in Chicago.)

  • In reply to jack:

    Hmm. I'm not so sure about the series numbers. Surely there haven't been 2,600 different kinds of buses?!

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    That's what thought when the numbers suddenly went up from 510 to 2906 in Hammond. However, they are asset tag numbers for each unit, and are not supposed to overlap.

    In the 2600s series of L cars noted above, CTA purchased 600 of the same type from Budd, numbered 2601-3200. Then it later bought the 3200 series from Morrison-Kundsen, which were slightly different.

    The only point I was trying to raise here was the unexplained numerology difference between buses and train cars, depending on the base number, just as the base number of a century seems to depend if the base number is XX00 or XX01.

  • In reply to jack:

    OK, thanks for the lesson on buses and trains. But the only difference I know in centuries comes from people who never learned that there never was a "year zero."

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Heck, there are basketball players with number 0, and football players named Otto with double zero.

  • In reply to jack:

    Those are cute, definitely, but nothing to do with the system of numbering years.

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