2020 Is Not A New Decade… You Innumerate Bastards

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If you’re one of those people looking forward to a new decade on Wednesday, Lindsay Foyle has no plans to let you anywhere near his finances, although he might let you score for him in cricket.

We are taught to count to 10 at a very early age. But that does not stop many people 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 is it not?

Counting is so simple we teach two-year-olds to do it. Even cricketers can count. But they do not like to stop at 10; they prefer to count to 100.

If a batsman is skilled enough when 10 runs are scored 10 times in one innings he is said to have scored a century, which is 100. 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. They also know that as soon as they have scored 101 runs they have started on their second century.

Unfortunately, that simple mathematical fact is lost on vast numbers of the population when the same numerical laws are applied to years. Many seem to think counting to 10 stops when they get to nine. They will do this again this year when they said we were about to start a new decade in 2020.

Just as there is no day “0” in a month there is no year “0” in the Gregorian calendar. As an aside, there is not one in its predecessor the Julian calendar either. The first year in both is year 1. As a decade contains 10 years and a century 100, the first century ended at 100. As a result, given simple progression 2010 was the last year in the first decade of the 21st century and that made 2011 the first year of the second decade of the 21st century.

It also makes 2020 the last year of the second decade.

The word “decade” is derived from the Latin word “decadem”, which was derived from the Greek word “decas”. While the word has changed it has always related to 10 years. The other words we use for spans of years also come from Latin: lustrum (5 years), century (100 years) and millennium (1000 years). Decades, century and millennium all get used frequently but “lustrum” seems to have gone out of fashion, a bit like dinosaurs.

It is true that a decade does not have to be a fixed 10 years. A decade can be any 10 consecutive years. For example, “During his last decade, Mozart explored chromatic harmony to a degree rare at the time”. Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart was born in 1756 and died in 1791, so his last decade was from 1782 to 1791. There are those who say he never died as he lives on in his music. That is a load of rubbish because when you are dead you are dead.

The suggested biblical life span is three score years and 10. That adds up to 70 (twice what Mozart got). A score is an old English word for 20. It is old because it predates cricket where a score can be anything. For a cricketer three scores and 10 could be as little as 10, if they scored three ducks and a 10.

Using “score” when referring to 20 years is a bit old fashioned but almost 150 years ago (or seven score and 10 to be precise) it was still in common use.

Abraham Lincoln used “score” it his famous Gettysburg Address on Thursday afternoon November 19, 1863 when he used the term, “Four score and seven”. Everybody listening knew he was talking about what happened 87 years previously: the writing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Numbers have a precise meaning. A one is a 1 and a two is a 2. Words are different. A two can be a “to” or a “too: or a “two”. It all depends on how you want to use the word. Just like a cricketer who goes out when he is in and in when he is out. Words can be silly. But numbers? Never. There are what they are, nothing more and nothing less.

That is why 2010 was not the first year of the second decade of this century or this millennium. It was the last year of the first decade of this century, which also made it the first decade of this millennium.

2011 was the first year of the second decade. Just ask any cricketer if they have scored 10 or a century and then ask them how they counted it. Their second 10 started on 11 and their second century on 101.

But do not ask them if they have scored a millennium. None have had to count that far. Yet.

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Lindsay Foyle

Born in Sydney, Lindsay Foyle has been involved in the media since he left school near the end of 1960 and has been drawing cartoons professionally since 1975. He was deputy editor of The Bulletin in the 1980s and worked on The Australian from 1996 to 2009 as a journalist and cartoonist. He is currently working as a freelance cartoonist while writing books on Australian cartooning. He is a past president the Australian Cartoonists’ Association and has been active in the Media and Entertainment Arts Alliance for over four decades.

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