2020: IT WASN’T THE BEGINNING OF THE NEW DECADE?
With the beginning of the 2020 New Year, you saw articles everywhere that discussed the end of the decade or declared that 2020 was the beginning of the new decade. But 2021 is the beginning of the new decade.
Q: Isn’t 2020 the beginning of the new decade?
- 2020 is the beginning of a new decade — as any year is
- But it is not the beginning of the new decade
Q: But the year ends in Zero. If 2010 was the beginning of the decade, and 2000 was the beginning of the new millennium, how can 2020 not be the beginning of the new decade?
Because 2010 was not the beginning of the decade, as I explained a decade ago here. And 2000 was not the beginning of the Third Millennium. That is why Arthur C. Clarke was careful to name his space odyssey 2001, not 2000.
Q: If I turn 20 years old, I’ve started a new decade. Why isn’t it the same with the calendar year 2020?
Here’s the source of the bewilderment:
Confusing age with date.
When you’re born, how old are you? Zero.
After you’ve lived for a year, you turn One and start your second year of life, which culminates with you becoming Two.
It doesn’t work that way with dates. Our modern calendar starts at 1 AD; there was no Year Zero. The Romans at the time of Jesus did not use the number Zero; they had a positional numbering system. Zero came from the Arabic numbering system.
So Jesus was born 753 a.u.c. or Ab Urbe Condita, or from the founding of the city of Rome, as I explain elsewhere. In any event, the Roman Empire likely didn’t mark Jesus’ birth.
The church did that later with the common use of dating things Before Christ (BC) and “In the Year of Our Lord” Anno Domini (AD), by the Romanian monk Dionysius Exiguus in 525 AD, and subsequently formalized in the modern Gregorian Calendar, as I describe here.
At this point, you’re probably wondering:
“Didn’t it seem odd to people at the time that one year it’s 1 BC, and the next year it’s AD 1?”
You would think so; imagine how hard it was to carve your checks 1 BC and then after New Year, having to change that to AD 1.
Except, of course, they weren’t using the Gregorian Calendar that we currently use. Instead, they used the Julian Calendar, named after the calendar reforms of that famous Roman Julius Caesar, who subsequently got a month named after him.
Q: But what about the ’60s, the ’70s?
Great music then, right? Those were decades in common parlance, as in a decade, but not the calendar decade. Sorry, I don’t make up the rules, I just write about them.
Q: What if we just erase the year 2020?
Your friendly neighborhood historian feels your pain. I’ll look into it.
Q: I feel like this is taking me up and down
Yes, it’s like the elevator analogy, or as they say in the UK, the lift analogy. In America, elevators start on the 1st floor. If you wanted to go up 10 floors, you’d end up on the 11th floor, not the 10th.
But in the UK and most other civilized countries, the lift starts on the ground floor, or the 0th floor. If you go up 10 floors, you’ll be on the 10th floor.
Q: So when did the first decade end and the second one begin?
According to our current Gregorian Calendar, the first decade started in 1 AD and ended after 10 AD; the second one began in 11 AD. Hence, the Third Millennium began in 2001, the third decade of which starts in 2021.
Rule of thumb: years ending in One start the decade, those years ending in Zero are the end of the decade.
Q: Will this newly understood truth make any difference in how we refer to 2020?
Nope. Even though Sandi Duncan, the managing editor of the Farmer’s Almanac said
“The next decade won’t start until Jan. 1, 2021,”
it won’t change people’s minds, at least according to an Internet market research poll conducted last December. It asked 13,582 Americans whether the following decade would begin on New Years Day 2020 or New Years Day 2021. Results showed that:
- 64% of Americans answered the next decade will begin on January 1, 2020, and will end on December 31, 2029.
- 19% of the Americans surveyed replied they don’t know.
- 17% answered the next decade will begin on January 1, 2021, and will end on December 31, 2030.
Not that truth is ascertained by polls, only opinions. The rolling of the odometer (chronometer) from 2019 to 2020, as it did with 2000, presented an irresistible desire to call it THE new decade. But 2021 is the beginning of the new decade.
Happy New Decade!
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian