What The Chicago Manual of Style says about the ends of decades -- arrrrggh!

What The Chicago Manual of Style says about the ends of decades -- arrrrggh!
Source: Reusableart.com

It was barely December before I started seeing mentions of year-end lists — best of, worst of, oddest of whatever a column or site reviews.

Those are fine with me. But the lists of best, worst or whatever of the decadeĀ are too early.

Decade means ten years — not nine. So I wanted to come up with an easy, yet Serious, way to help you remember that as we head toward the end of 2019.

I thought of a whole separate post about this, but then I saw The Chicago Manual of Style sitting on the end of my couch. I cleared my throat, then looked for its authoritative entry about decades.

It’s there — on pages 556 and 557, about twice as far as I’ve gotten so far. (My bookmark’s at pronouns, page 234.)

But a fat lot of help the manual is about decades.

While the entry mentions that “the first decade of any century cannot be treated in the same way as other decades,” lest it be taken to mean the whole century, the entry then gets sloppy. It specifies: “the first decade of the twenty-first century (or the years 2000-2009)” and “the second decade of the twenty-first century of the 2010s (the years 2010-19).”

Well, now I’m gonna argue like it’s 1999.

Back then, millennium stories were driving me nuts. A millennium is 1,000 years, so how could anyone think that the year 2000 was part of the new millennium? The new millennium began on Jan. 1, 2001. (Some would argue that it began on Sept. 11 of that year, but that’s another story.)

Similarly, a decade is ten years — so how can we say a number ending in nine ends a series of ten? (Imagine I’m going to pay you ten dollars. How would you feel if I said that I was finished paying you at nine?)

But back to The Chicago Manual of Style: “Note that some consider the first decade of, for example, the twenty-first century to consist of the years 2001-10; the second, 2011-20; and so on. Chicago defers to the preference of its authors in this matter.”

That drives this Chicagoan crazy. The preference of this author is for the scientific, sensible decades of one through 10 — and for style manuals that set rules, not defer to preferences.

So what’s next from the manual?

Maybe just a trip back to the library. Stay tuned.

Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook.

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  • Your position makes more sense than the others, although I do see some difficulties in referring to the decade of the "oughts," and I suppose the teens and the twenties.

    I ran into a similar problem in a CTA discussion board, where someone came up with all types of implausible explanations of how car 3200 was a 2600 series car, but I noted that the 2600 series of 600 cars started with 2601, not 2600, and then posted a link to a story of the last Budd car, with a picture of 3200, and asked if he had an another-world explanation for that.

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    Maybe this is a humor column and I'm not getting the joke, but 2001-2010 is eleven years. I don't think the Chicago Manual of Style is "sloppy" to insist on a ten-year range for decades.

  • In reply to Carol Saller:

    Maybe your comment is a humorous one, but try counting on your fingers. 2001-2010 is TEN years. Let us know if you get to your toes.

    Giving you the benefit of a possible typo, 2000-2010 is 11 years, but that supports MS's point that the third millennium started in 2001.

  • In reply to Carol Saller:

    Thanks, Carol, but respectfully, 1-10 in any group is ten, not 11. I'm not arguing sloppiness for that, but for the idea that if you're counting ten of something and don't have any yet (you have zero), count that -- and then stop counting "to ten" when you have nine.

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    (Oh, man - I hate when that happens.)

    Anyway, of course a decade must end with a nine if it begins in a year ending in zero. If you insist on the end of the "decade" ending in 10, it will amount to 11 years.
    1. 2000
    2. 2001
    3. 2002
    4. 2003
    5. 2004
    6. 2005
    7. 2006
    8. 2007
    9. 2008
    10. 2009
    11. 2010

  • In reply to Carol Saller:

    Those are a couple of very big "ifs," Carol -- neither of which I agree with. I've been looking at various sources for, well, decades, and I can't find any system or reference in which there was a "year zero." So the first decade was A.D. 1-10, the second 11-20, the first century A.D. 1-100, the second century 101-200, etc.
    But thank you for reading.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    That is the essential problem--there isn't a year zero. As Illustrated in my third millennium post, it doesn't, until you consider that fact, make much sense that the 20th Century was the 1900s, for the most part.

    It's a similar problem to that a pitcher who is taken out in the third inning only pitched 2-1/3.

  • In reply to jack:

    Thank you, Jack. Maybe part two of that problem is that none of us were here for anywhere near year zero, so we don't have that memory. But if you think I'm irritated about this now, you should have seen me (but not been within reach) in 1999.

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