31 Dec 2009

Happy New Year! Happy New Decade?

By Lindsay Foyle
Before you pop open the bubbly and start lurching away to Auld Lang Syne, prepare yourself for the big question. Is the decade over? Lindsay Foyle offers his 10 years' worth
We are taught to count to 10 at a very early age.

But that does not stop many from forgetting the lesson. So for those who have forgotten when counting to 10 it is better to start at one and work your way to 10 in single digits; one, two three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine and then 10. Simple isn't it?

Counting is simple. It is so simple we teach two year olds to do it.

Even cricketers can count. But they prefer to count to a hundred. They do this by counting to 10, 10 times. If a batsman is skilled enough when 10 runs are scored 10 times in one innings the batsman is said to have scored a century. Unfortunately the magic century is not reached if the batsman only scores 99. There is not a cricketer who ever played the game who does not know that.

Unfortunately that simple mathematical lesson is lost on vast numbers of the population when the same principle is applied to years. Many seem to think counting to 10 stops when they get to nine. They do this when they say we are about to start a new decade next year. As 2010 looms, they're doing this right now.

A decade is 10 years and there are 10 decades in a century. It is a bit like dollars. If you are lucky enough to have 10 10-cent coins you have a dollar.

A decade can be any 10 consecutive years and a century can be any 100 consecutive years, but as a society we like to count a decade from the start (one) and end a century when we get to 100. The first decade goes from one to 10. The second from 11 to 20; the third from 21 to 30 and so on till the last ends on 100.

That is why 2009 was not the last year of the first decade of the century or the millennium. Just ask any cricketer if they have scored a century and then ask them how they counted it. But do not ask then if they have scored a millennium. None have had to count that far. Yet.

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Posted Thursday, December 31, 2009 - 13:10

The human race will be burned or drowned or eating each other in 30 years, so why bother counting at all?

This user is a New Matilda supporter. PaulRobert
Posted Thursday, December 31, 2009 - 14:20

Here's an idea. Stop looking at the progressing of years by an obsessively exact counting and start looking at it like a joyous celebration of the rollover of a digit in an odometer. That way you can celebrate the change of the decade from 2009 to 2010 like the rest of the us and not be tortured by the pedantry of precisely when the decade truly begins.

Posted Thursday, December 31, 2009 - 17:05

Yes, I agree, the first decade of the C21 will not be over until 31 December 2010.

And what an awful decade it has been so far...

Dr Dog
Posted Thursday, December 31, 2009 - 17:56

Dear Inspector Pedant,

Why not look at it this way? The whole deal is a construct, based on an arbitrary starting date, quite inaccurate and only broadly recognising genuine annual events such as enquinoxes and the like. It only means anything at all in relation to the meaning we, the people, attach to it.

I am sure you will hold an unreal end of decade bash next year, Lindsay, where you and a select few can sit together in the quiet satisfaction of being smarter than us.

But don't forget to get out and enjoy the atmosphere tonight man. HNY.

Posted Friday, January 1, 2010 - 03:13

I had this very debate with a friend last night. He seemed to see it by your point of view Lindsay but I do not (he's a mathematician btw... and I'm a romantic haha).

Technically speaking the ten years are not up until the end of 2010 but we, as a society, tend to count the decades etc. as represented by their respective digits. The number 10 is made up of 1 and 0, so it is a representation of double digits more than anything else. When we reach 20, it would be difficult to represent it as a teen year. The new millennium was celebrated when we reached 2000 and I don't really remember anyone being picky about it then... it was just too much in everybody's face.

Similarly, we celebrate our first birthday when we reach the age of one. Semantically though, it's our second birthday. In Italian, instead of birthday, compleanno, meaning year completed or fulfilled, is used. In this case, our speaking and also counting habits may have been formed or influenced by our 'English-speaking' society.

Posted Friday, January 1, 2010 - 07:18

Hmm, cricketers celebrate when they score the run that clicks them over to 100, not when they score the run that ends them being on 100.

Posted Saturday, January 2, 2010 - 02:30

Yes Carty, Well observed.....
But they celebrate only when they complete that run sucessfully, not when they begin it!

I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than have a frontal lobotomy!

Stephen Pickells
Posted Tuesday, January 5, 2010 - 13:34

I don't know what society you come from Lindsay, but I have noticed that the society I live in likes to count a decade as the ten years that share the same penultimate digit. Therefore the sixties went from 1960 to the end of 1969. It would be ludicrous to suggest that 1970 was part of the sixties. Of course as you point out, a decade can be any peiod of time that lasts for ten years. It doesn't even have to start at the beginning of a year. And I'm sure that you'll be smug in the knowledge that the decade which begins next year can be called "The Decade That Goes From 2011 To The End Of 2020". You will admit though, that its not really a catchy name.
Speaking of which, I'm still waiting for some clever scribe to come up with a label for this great new decade. In the absence of anything better, I'll call it the Doublies (as in double-digits). If it catches on, remember you saw it here first.

Posted Tuesday, January 5, 2010 - 14:21

I would have thought 0-9 counted as 10, making a decade. But no doubt this trivial debate will last for some time in the media, till something else comes along for the pedants.

Posted Tuesday, January 5, 2010 - 16:01

Until the 2000 hoo-ha the only people to have a year zero were the murderous, genocidal Khmere Rouge (Pol Pot & Co)... Killing Fields and all that.
Cetainly in number forms like hexadecimal where we count 0-9,A-F zero has a place but "real things" are counted 1-10.
If you want to have a good piss-up then any excuse will do (and I'll join you) but don't think that you can stuff up a numbering system - numbers don't care what you zero-nuts think.

Posted Tuesday, January 5, 2010 - 21:14

wait a minute.... liet me go through this a year at a time

2000 one year
2001 two years
2002 three years
2003 four years
2004 five years.. yeah this is gunna work out like i thought it would...
2005 six years
2006 seven years
2008 nine years

Deci meaning ten and being the root of decade... though i guess it you non zero types are counting the year 2000 as part of the ninties... why would you do that? just to be confusing? so the year 1930 was part of the 20's now? GO AWAY AND STOP MAKING PROBLEMS WHERE THERE ARE NONE


Posted Wednesday, January 6, 2010 - 22:28

No No No!
We are in what is commoinly called AD (anno domini) or CE (current era). And forget about complications with the real birthdate of Christ.
There was no Year Zero.
There was BC/BCE 1 followed by AD/CE 1 then 2 ...10 : First Decade.
1 - 100: First Century
1 - 1000 First Millennium
1001 - 2000: Second Millennium
and so on until 1901 - 2000: Twentieth Century.
Terms like "twenties", "thirties" and so on may be handy but they do not constitute a counting SYSTEM.
You would not be happy if you loaned me some money and I only returned 9 cents in the dollar, would you? So why persist with this zero-start nonsense.

Posted Wednesday, January 6, 2010 - 23:08

Yes, I meant 90c in the dollar...

Posted Thursday, January 7, 2010 - 00:37

90 cents back in the dollar is a terrible analogy....

I wasn't suggesting that the decade should only go 9 years but ten starting from 2000... because other wise 1990 would be part of the eighties and 1950 would be part of the 1940s... which is patently silly...

And the twenties and thirties and 90s DO constitute a counting system... the one every body uses including serious historians...

Posted Friday, January 8, 2010 - 10:31

You are right never stop at nine. 1990 is part of the eighties. Just as 1950 is part of the forties. If you start at the start (one) the first decade has to end at ten.
Try counting to 100. Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eight, ninety, one hundred.
Notice notice only one nine and that was in ninety.
Serious historians have always counted decades like that.

Stephen Pickells
Posted Friday, January 8, 2010 - 11:39

Lindsay, Lindsay, Lindsay. Serious historians can count decades like that, but they wouldn't call them the eighties, nineties etc. They would call them the 198th or the 199th decade. That's fine. But we lower forms of humanity count in a different way. I mean God, Lindsay. If you managed to reinvent yourself after The Bulletin, then you must have some inkling of pop culture.

Posted Friday, January 8, 2010 - 21:12

Perhaps in academic papers they count 1990 as part of the eighties (and call it the 198th decade) but when they write books for popular consumption they don't. Should I pull something off the shelf and quote it?

Is there a rule book people are reffeting to when they tell us the "correct" way to count these things?