Will we ever get out of the Two Thousands and into the Twenties?

Jan 18, 2012

Do you know what year this is?  I’m not asking what you write on your checks (providing you still use them). That’s easy: it’s 2012.  But what do you say when you say it out loud?

NPR doesn’t have a set policy, letting the presenter decide. A lot of people, including BBC news readers, say “Two thousand and twelve,” a continuation of the way we said it in the Aughts (“Two thousand and seven,” for example.) And that, of course, follows the ominous but understandable use of “The Year Two Thousand.” The next year was “Two Thousand and One,” and so on.

That year, 2001, provides the model we still use, thanks to filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. He primed us to say “Two Thousand One, a Space Odyssey,” as far back as 1968.

Are we ever going to drop this five-syllable style of speaking and accept the Two Thousands the way we did the Nineteen Hundreds? It just seems so out of place in an era that truncates everything in the shortest possible way (IMHO, BTW).

2012 could be the year we make this change, also through the influence of mass media. Just as Kubrick taught us to spell out the year, the Summer Olympics and “The Daily Show” segment “Indecision 2012” are showing us how to trim it down. Both those examples use “twenty twelve,” as do some car makers in their ads -- when they don’t avoid the issue by just showing the date, and not saying those words at all.

But the transition may not be here yet, as demonstrated by KALW station manager Matt Martin; he uses both “Two thousand and twelve” and “Twenty twelve.”  And I’m old enough to remember adults saying things like “He was born in Nineteen Hundred and Twenty Two.” I thought it belabored the point then, just as it does now.