TIME MAGAZINE: A Brief History of Naming the 2000s
Waxing nostalgic about this decade is going to be tough. And not just because there's plenty--from 9/11 to the financial apocalypse--we'd rather forget. No, the trouble is that when we tell our grandkids about the first decade of the 21st century, we may not know what to call it.
This gap in the English language shouldn't come as a surprise; the debate over what to name the first decade of this century has been going on since the middle decades of the last one. The 1900s never got a name beyond vague constructions like the turn of the century. One popular term--the aughts--has proved too archaic (and tricky to spell) to be broadly revived. Wordsmiths tried new coinages starting early: in 1963 a New Yorker writer suggested "Twenty oh-oh" for the far-off year 2000, a "nervous name for what is sure to be a nervous year." Twenty years later, a New York Times editorial proposed the Ohs. In 1989 the late word guru William Safire floated Zippy Zeros. (It sank.) In 1999 a New York City arts collective mounted a campaign to name the decade the naughties, plugging the moniker on posters and stickers around the city. Attempts to poll our way to consensus failed. One in 6 voters in a 1999 USA Today poll preferred a variant of the aughts to the 2Ks, the Zips and the First Decade, among other options; in a separate survey the same year, 20% of respondents picked the Double O's. Meanwhile, in a poll by the British p.r. firm QBO, the Zeroes prevailed.
Mounting Y2K hysteria overshadowed debate in the late '90s, as many worried less about what to call the next decade and more about whether there would be one. After the world failed to end at the stroke of midnight, linguistic experts promised that a nickname would bubble up over time. Despite creative attempts--including Ryan Guerra's decade-long quest to popularize the Unies via brochures and blog manifestos--none has. We've gotten by for so long calling this decade the 21st century--a term that will sound ridiculous in 50 years--that we might as well get started on christening the next one. Will it be the tweens? The teens? An Australian website has already suggested the One-ders. Here we go again.
– BY LAURA FITZPATRICK