We’re saying hello not only to a new year, but also to a whole new decade. But what should we call the decade that’s ending, or, for that matter, the one before that?
Some creative names have been proposed for the years 2010-19. The “Tens” works, but sounds like it’s part of a math problem – “Which digit is in the tens place?” The “Tenties” is another option, which a few people see as preferable because it echoes the Thirties, the Forties, and so on, but it sounds like a cutesy way to refer to campers – “What are those tenties doing over there?”
If you have a dim view of the past 10 years, you could call it the “Ten-sions”; if you look on the bright side, you might prefer the name that triumphed in an Australian competition: the “One-ders.” The “Teens” is promising, especially since we occasionally use this term for the decade 1910-19, but some sticklers protest that it doesn’t include the years 2010-12. The name that will probably win out, rather prosaically, is the “Twenty-tens,” which for now outstrips any of the others in Google searches.
Britain has done better with the previous decade, and 2000-09 is known there, with some dissension, as the “Noughties.” Nought is the British English word for “zero,” and makes an appealing play on the word naughty, though I wouldn’t say that this decade was particularly noted for its hedonism. In the United States, though, we don’t have a term for it, usually making do with “the early 2000s.”
Why can’t we agree on a name? One problem is that we don’t have a precedent. The phenomenon of organizing years into decades is actually fairly new. It caught on in the 1890s (dubbed the “Gay Nineties,” as these years were remembered as a time of prosperity and fun). Before then, it was customary to group years together according to Britain’s reigning king or queen, even in the U.S. The Victorian era was 1837 to 1901, give or take, and the Edwardian ... well, you have to know when Edward VII was king, and that’s the problem with counting by monarchs. It’s 1901 to 1910.
Edward was the last king with an eponymous era, and going forward, years were grouped either by epochal event or by decade. The 1910s didn’t need a name because they were marked by World War I; the 1920s were a cohesive period in which the economy surged and social mores were flouted: the “Roaring Twenties.” Then we had the Thirties with the Great Depression, the Forties with World War II, and so on.
The 2000s and 2010s can’t rely on a monarch, and they are too recent for us to be able to discern what, if any, their defining events were.
Thankfully, the arriving decade comes preloaded with a name. Hurrah for the Twenties, again!