This aught-naught decade isn’t over until it’s over

  • By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
  • Wednesday, December 30, 2009 12:01am
  • Local News

It’s the zero, that’s what confuses us. Like the big-deal birthdays — 40, 50 and 60 — that last zero in 2010 is messing with our minds.

Some otherwise very bright people are treating this week as though it’s the last one of the decade. Actually, this is merely the last week of the current year, 2009. When you awaken on Friday, it will be the first day of this decade’s last year. The first decade of the third millennium will end on Dec. 31, 2010. A new decade won’t start until Jan. 1, 2011.

Got all that? Good. That means there’s no need to party like it’s 1999 — although when the calendar turned from 1999 to 2000 there was no cause for that, either. It was all those zeroes making us crazy, I’m telling you.

This decade, and this millennium, began Jan. 1, 2001, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory, our nation’s official time keeper. When you count to 100, you start with one (not zero) and you don’t stop at 99. In the same way, when you count from one to 10, you don’t stop at 2009 and call it a full decade.

No need to take my word for this. On Monday, I called Demetrios Matsakis, the head of time service with the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. “It all stems from the fact that there is no year zero,” he said.

Matsakis said the ancient Greeks had no concept of zero. Dionysius Exiguus, the abbot credited for what evolved into our modern calendar, translated Greek texts into Latin. He placed no year zero between 1 B.C. and 1 A.D.

The confusion is nothing new. Matsakis said that when 1699 rolled over to 1700, Sir Isaac Newton wrote something along the lines of “I can’t wait until we finally get this issue behind us.”

As for every recent and wrongheaded mention of a new decade, Matsakis said, “There are things that get me emotionally riled up, but that’s not one of them.”

Arithmetic gives me a headache, but I do get it. And I’m amused, as I was 10 years ago, by all the end-of-decade and new decade references we’re seeing in these last days before 2010. The media must love those zeroes.

I’m enough of a political junkie to tune into NBC’s “Meet the Press.” On Sunday, moderator David Gregory introduced a segment exploring “what’s in store for America in the next decade?” He didn’t mean developments beginning a year from now. And the “Meet the Press” Web page shows Gregory’s Twitter entries, including this one: “This Sunday, we end the decade talking about what defined it: terrorism.”

On Nov. 24, in an issue with a crying baby wearing a party hat on its cover, Time magazine published an article by Andy Serwer with the headline “The ’00s: Goodbye (at Last) to the Decade from Hell.”

Yep, my retirement fund dove straight toward hell, but whether you call this decade the ’00s, the aughts or the naughts, it’s not over yet.

The Herald, in its front page story Sunday on “What to Expect in 2010” called 2010 “the dawn of a new decade.” Nice hedge, if you think of dawn as a yearlong introduction to the next decade.

I’m hardly the first to notice a widespread impulse to jump the gun. The Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby wrote Sunday about the late David Brudnoy, a talk radio host, who at the end of 1999 wore a button that said, “The century will end on December 31, 2000. Please be patient.”

On Dec. 20, 1999, I wrote a similar column in the midst of the Y2K hoopla. Back then, I mentioned seeing Peter Jennings — the ABC newsman who died in 2005 — on CNN’s “Larry King Live.” Jennings talked about being on the air for 24 hours straight to usher in 2000. Those zeroes get all the attention.

King asked him about the new millennium not arriving until 2001. Jennings acknowledged that was correct, then told King: “This is the century of the common man, and the common man has decided it’s 2000, so we’ll do it that way.”

Again, we seem to be doing it that way, prematurely kissing this decade goodbye.

It’s not over, but this decade of wrenching news and economic worry is going fast. Wasn’t it just 2001? Or 2005? Personally, I saw my family grow and thrive. Now, again so soon, it’s time for a new calendar — for the last year of the decade.

Time, whatever it’s labeled and however it’s measured, is fleeting.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460,

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