Friday, December 30, 2011

Still Life with Robin: Say It With Me, "Twenty Twelve"

by Peggy Robin

There’s a myriad of impractical and overreaching New Year’s resolutions that get made and discarded every year, enough to persuade me not to take on any challenge or self-improvement regimen at this particular time of the year. It seems preordained that any efforts begun on January 1 will peter out by the end of the season, if not the end of the month.

I do have one change that I’m pushing, nonetheless. It’s not a healthier-eating program or an exercise schedule that calls for self-discipline (and therefore stands a better than average chance of losing out to old, entrenched bad habits). It’s a simple change of phrase. This year, every time I say the year, I resolve to say it as a pair of two-digit numbers, just as we did with every year all the way up to nineteen-ninety-nine.

This simple, elegant year-naming scheme fell to pieces in the year two thousand. It was no one’s fault. People just didn’t like the sound of the year twenty hundred -- and with good reason: it doesn't flow naturally off the tongue. It's more syllables than two-thous-and, to  boot. The same linguistic preferences for brevity and rhythm kept that entire single-digit decade in the same pronoucing pattern: Two thousand and one, two thousand and two, all the way through two thousand and nine. I believe a certain mathematical mindset was at work here, too. By saying “two thousand and…” you form a clear image in your mind about the number of zeroes in the year. If you were to say “twenty-oh-nine” there could have been room for confusion about the zeroes in the middle, those two zeroes in a row. This was not a problem at the turn of the previous century, because the leading number, nineteen, had no zero, and so nineteen-oh-nine was the clear, simple choice. For simpler times.

Once we reached the end of the zero decade, I would have thought –well, I hoped!—that would be the end of the whole “two thousand and…” format.”Twenty ten” is short and punchy. But it just didn’t catch on, and I’m not sure why. But for whatever reasons, newscasters, business planners, weather forecasters, everyone who announces dates in public, continued to use the two extra syllables needed to say two thousand and ten. Last year things were even worse, with the year as a seven syllable phrase, two-thous-and-and-e-le-ven. 

So I say it’s time (no, two years past time!) for for a New Year’s change of phrase. Starting on January 1, let’s all say twenty twelve. Let’s resolve when you hear someone else say two thousand twelve to speak up, not to correct something that is in any way incorrect, but simply to make others aware that there is a shorter, cleaner, more rhythmically pleasing alternative. Help it catch on in twenty twelve. Maybe if we all start doing that, then by the start of twenty thirteen we won’t need another resolution.

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