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Labels for Years? A Question for Linguists?

When I was a teenager (waaaaay back in the 1980s) I occasionally wondered how society was going to refer to the years after 2000. I saw several possibilities including things like ‘twenty-0-six’ (a parallel construction with, say, nineteen-0-six) or even ‘two thousand and six.’ (I have never heard anyone use ‘twenty hundred’ to refer to 2000, though.) As 2000 approached, I got the sense that most people would use the second construction.

I then wondered how years after 2009 would be spoken about and it seems clear that two constructions are still competing for dominance: ‘twenty ten’ or ‘two thousand and ten’ (2010).

Three times in the past week, however, I have heard a different construction for the year 2010 on the radio. The label for 2010 that some are using in the Vancouver radio market is ‘two ten’ as in “Vancouver is hosting the Winter Olympics in two ten.” Should this surprise me? It seems like a reasonable contraction for ‘two thousand and ten’ but it does not represent a huge improvement on ‘twenty-ten’ as far as syllable conservation is concerned anyway.

Has anyone else heard this? If so, in which cities or areas? Any linguists interested in weighing in on the processes at work here?


Labels for Years, Redux

Labels for Years, Again (with audio)

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  1. Jamie wrote:

    I’ve heard all of those variants. I’m not a pro linguist or anything, but could it have something to do with two-ten being phonetically simpler to articulate than twenty ten. It has only to syllables [tu-ten] the first of which is a simple canonical syllable that is super easy to produce, there are no glides, nasals in the middle of the word, or other difficult sound patterns like [tw] and [nti] in two-ten, and finally two-ten is a natural word pattern for most people since we use it often use this form in reference to time (I have to do pick up the kids at 2:10.

    One other variant that I used to come across a lot on the internet or among young people was 2K10 or 2k5. It has died out a bit over the last little while, but there was a big push for it a couple of years ago. I think it just sounded kind of futuristic and cool so people tried to adopt it.


    Thursday, July 28, 2005 at 11:13 am | Permalink
  2. Tad wrote:

    Offline someone suggested to me that they say/prefer “two thousand and five” but slur over the double ‘and’. In a hurry they might say “two thous’d five.” He also suggested … and this is interesting … 2010 as an olympic year in Vancouver is a landmark date, and at the centre of a media frenzy. As such, “two-ten” may have caught on as something as a signature for the event.

    I guess we’ll have to see if people start talking about two-eleven or two-thirty as we get closer to 2011 and 2030.

    Thursday, July 28, 2005 at 1:56 pm | Permalink
  3. orange. wrote:

    When I was a teenager (waaaaay back in the 1980s) I occasionally wondered how society was going to refer to the years after 2000.

    Hey, I have been a teenager in the 1980s, too. It was already exciting when decades changed from 80`s to 90`s, wasn`t it? *smile
    Sry, can`t contribute anything ontopic, though saying “twentyten” for 2010 seems quite obscure.

    Friday, July 29, 2005 at 7:17 pm | Permalink
  4. Anna … changing decades was always fun … I think there are some obscurities at play here too. I’ll keep listening.

    Friday, July 29, 2005 at 9:19 pm | Permalink
  5. Emily wrote:

    Though with a purely ignorant knowledge of anything to do with lingistics, I will offer my personal choice anyway… 🙂

    I’ve heard a lot of people shorten the years to ‘0h-5 ‘0h-6 etc. I guess that works until you get to 2010 as you would say “0h-10”. Until then this choice seems easy and logical to me. On the other hand, I’m personally against the mixing of “o” and “zero”. (But tell me that I’m wrong, Jamie, to think that way because society seems them as the same so there is no difference… or something like whatever you and Rigel were talking about) I don’t know if I could say “oh-5” myself. If I had to say it that was I would probably try to say it as “zero-5”, but that just doesn’t sound natural at all.

    I think when I get to 2010 I will probably say “two thousand and ten”, or maybe shorten it to “two thousand ten” because it doesn’t seem to me a common enough word to bother saving my syllables and shortening it.

    Friday, August 5, 2005 at 11:29 pm | Permalink
  6. Thanks for the thoughts, Emily. I think you’ve proposed some other possibilities and a reasonable suggestion of what might happen in 2010. I think there is something, however, to the fact that the olympics (oh-lympics?) being in Vancouver in 2010 that will affect the way in which we talk about that year. Guess we’ll have to see how this plays out …

    Saturday, August 6, 2005 at 1:28 pm | Permalink
  7. Bobbins wrote:

    In my opinion there is a 100% chance that 2010 will be pronounced as “twenty-ten” when the year arrives. As for the “two-ten” prospect, this can’t work. If someone says “I’m going there on April 15, two-ten” it would seem rather that they mean at 2:10PM or 2:10AM rather than the year 2010. Thus, because of our laziness, we sure aren’t gonna spend years after 2009 having to explain “oh, I meant the year 2010 not the time 2:10” each time we speak! “Two-thousand-ten” will likely be used by a somewhat large percentage of non-linguists and followers a good way into 2010. It will be from the leftovers of pronouncing 2000-2009, and will ware off. Those in journalism and the media will most definitely say “twenty-ten”, as I have seen this done almost all of the time so far. As for the Vancouver 2010 marketing, I’d say “two-ten” is used because of a fear that people will double-think what you mean if you say “twenty-ten”, and that “two-thousand-ten” is simply too long and sounds like you’re referring to 2010 from the 60s or something. Actually, in a video interview concerning the bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics in New York, a woman used the terms “two-ten”, “two-thousand-and-ten”, “two-thousand-ten”, and “twenty-ten”. Once she even said “we look forward to the Olympics in …. the future”, attempting to avoid a pronunciation dilemma. It’s always interesting to see how people will respond to “How to I pronounce this”? If for some reason “twenty-ten” doesn’t catch on, this method certainly will catch on by 2013 and if not definitely 2020. “Twenty-twenty” just sounds too cool to pass on.

    Friday, February 24, 2006 at 4:28 pm | Permalink
  8. I tend to agree with you, Bobbins, but I did hear another instance of ‘two-ten’ being used in reference to the olympics within the past month. At the very least your comments suggest that we have not yet agreed upon a standard for referring to dates in the twenty-first century. I love your description of one person solving this problem by simply referring to ‘the future’. And yes, my guess is that by 2020 we won’t hear a lot of ‘two thousand and twenty’. Thanks for weighing in …

    Saturday, February 25, 2006 at 9:35 am | Permalink
  9. Peter wrote:

    I think most people will continue to say “two thousand ten” into 2010, because of the influence from our current decade. But given I’m posting this a year after the last post, I have updated information that newscasters will DEFINITELY be changing over to “twenty ten” by 2010, as I’ve heard mention of “2010” numerous times now in the media, and “two thousand ten” was only used about 10% of the time, and never in big news reports.

    The complete change (general public and all) will surely be complete by the end of 2011 at the latest.

    As for the “two ten Vancouver olympics”, I noticed that being said as well for a few years in anticipation of the event, but now all I hear is “twenty ten”, I think because the logo has been released with “2010” in it, and its just “wrong” to say that as “two ten” because you’re skipping a zero. See you all in twenty ten!

    Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 12:00 pm | Permalink
  10. Very interesting Peter … and I appreciate you updating the story. I have heard ‘two ten’ infrequently since my original post — but I still hear it on occasion. It is, perhaps, falling out of use.

    We should continue to track this …

    Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 1:33 pm | Permalink
  11. Peter wrote:

    Thanks for the near-immediate response. It’s rare to see that on internet blogs these days, heh.

    Anyway, I am very pleased to see someone else be as interested in the issue as I am. I have also been analyzing and deciphering how people do/should pronounce years, and I found “Bobbins” comment very amusing, the part where a lady had said “twenty ten”, “two thousand ten”, “two ten”, and “the future” all in the same speech. It’s amazing to see how people deal with this linguistic dilemma.

    It’s especially interesting because since 1100 AD, nobody has ever been faced with this type of speech-related divide. Every year came and went, and basically had a “pre-determined” consensus pronunciation. The year was always presented with “two sections”, for example 1777 was `17–77` (seventeen, seventy-seven) instead of, say `1-7-7-7` (one seven seven seven). And until 2000, this idea was written in stone for English speakers. The only timeframes perhaps raising divide were the first decades of each century, such as 1900–1909, whereas 1907 could be as “nineteen seven”, “nineteen aught-seven”, “nineteen hundred seven”, or even “nineteen oh-seven”, the latter being the most popular.

    For 2000-2009, we have no history to base our choices on. Only subtle influences decide our unconscious decisions on how to pronounce those years. While terms like “nineteen hundred” are used in math all the time to substitute for “one thousand, nine hundred”, there has never been such a shortcut for “two thousand”, most probably because its already very short. So naturally, we are pronouncing this year as “two thousand seven”, which I find to be the correct usage, mostly because the other option, “twenty oh-seven”, has the identical amount of syllables, thus is no shortcut, and is much harder to orally articulate, due to the odd sounding vowel combination at “twenty-oh”.

    The question is—when do we (as the general public) revert to our trusted method? Key years are 2010, 2011, 2013, 2020, or at latest 2100.

    Many non-linguistics (which represent most of the public) will suggest 2100, yet I’ve even heard some people say “in the year two thousand one hundred and fifty”, ACK! The reason for this is because they’ve never been exposed to a year starting with “twenty”, and don’t think about the pronunciation enough in advance to consider its benefits.

    As for me personally, I think many people will switch at 2010, but many will only change because of media influence (the media will change for sure, they need to say these years daily). But one think “two thousand ten” has going for it, is that it has no additional syllables than “two thousand nine”, so nobody need bother changing their style to lessen time waste. So my key estimation for the entire general public is sometime in 2011. “Eleven” has two syllables, and saying “two thousand and eleven” becomes as difficult to articulate as “twenty oh”. The latest I can imagine the changeover possibly being is 2020, I would be amazed if people still said years like “two thousand and eighty five”.

    In conclusion, Tad, I really like this subject and agree that we should continue to track this as we come within 3 years of the first key year, 2010. I think the Vancouver olympics are going to seal the deal with Canadians using “twenty ten”, but Americans and Brits may continue with “two thousand ten”. I’m glad we are both interested in this issue. I admit its minute, but I also admit I love it. Hehe! So lets keep the chat going.

    Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 8:44 pm | Permalink
  12. Peter … great stuff. I particularly like your concluding thought that there may well be national variations. I suspect that we aren’t the only ones watching this. I am going to ‘remind’ my readers of my interest and point to the long list of comments on this post. Perhaps some new data will emerge.

    (Can I ask the basis of your curiousity? Are you a ‘language scientist’ of some sort?)

    Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 10:02 am | Permalink
  13. Peter wrote:

    Something seems to be wrong with this posting template, I tried several times. I’m trying again.

    Tuesday, March 6, 2007 at 8:26 am | Permalink
  14. Peter wrote:

    Update on this… After reviewing 10 news sources from 2007 referencing any year from 2010 onward, I found that 8 out of 10 references mentioned “twenty” instead of “two thousand”. I also reviewed 10 non-news sources (amateur) from 2006/2007, and 3 out of 10 mentioned “twenty” rather than “two thousand”.

    In conclusion, if the general public eventually uses “twenty” for its pronunciations, it will be due to media influence rather than general unconscious action.

    Happy Two thousand eight, two thousand nine, and twenty-ten to all!

    Sunday, January 6, 2008 at 11:12 am | Permalink
  15. Peter … and Happy 2008 to you, too!

    Sunday, January 6, 2008 at 11:23 am | Permalink
  16. Dan Golus wrote:

    It does appear TV/radio NEWS media will say “twenty” for years 2010 and beyond – as most are doing so now in 2008.

    But advertisers and sports broadcasters need to get onboard for “twenty”. So far, too many still say “two thousand” for 2010 and beyond.
    This is important because it seems years are mentioned often in commercials (especially “…no payments until 2011…”) and sports broadcasts than in news broadcasts.

    Friday, March 21, 2008 at 11:33 am | Permalink
  17. Dan Golus wrote:

    Update on my 3/21/08 comment:

    It doesn’t look good for “twenty”:

    1. At a recent tax seminar, attendees continued to say “two thousand” despite the host/speaker’s numerous “twenty” mentions.

    (One attendee even asked the speaker “what is twenty-fifteen? An IRS tax code?” Speaker replied “The year 2015”. “Oh, you mean two thousand fifteen”, the attendee said!)

    2. A local Los Angeles eye center had it’s radio ad change a “twenty-ten” pronounciation to “two thousand ten” because the center said people won’t know what “twenty-ten” means!

    Not good. I now think the 2010 twenty-ten situation will remain as it is now – tv/radio news saying “twenty”, but tv/radio commercials and the general public saying “two thousand”. They appear unable to make the logical – and efficient – connection to say “twenty”. Perhaps not until well into the century. Maybe 2030.

    Monday, August 11, 2008 at 10:47 am | Permalink
  18. Dan … Thanks for coming back. The rich examples are appreciated!

    Monday, August 11, 2008 at 5:47 pm | Permalink
  19. Peter writes:

    Great examples, Dan, and although things might not look good, I think we can almost guarantee complete widespread usage of “twenty” by at the latest 2011. The biggest reason for this is things like the 2010 Olympics, where “twenty ten” will be said so often, that it will enter the public consciousness without anyone even realizing it.

    Once advertisers and sports broadcasters (the latter of whom will be involved directly with the Olympics) are exposed to this increasingly, I’m SURE they will all convert over. Followed quickly by the general public.

    Remember, it’s only logical to move from saying “nineteen” something to “twenty” something. Once the difficulty “twenty oh” (200__) years pass by, people will start to realize the efficiency of “twenty”. I am almost willing to place a bet that 90+% of us will be saying “twenty eleven” by 2011.

    Tuesday, September 2, 2008 at 9:03 am | Permalink
  20. Peter wrote:

    Happy 2010 all!!

    Still can’t be sure which one will win over, but it’s looking good for 20-10. On almost every morning show I’ve been watching lately (GMA, Today Show, Early Show, Canada AM), they’ve brought up the issue of “two thousand” vs “twenty”. Some chose to go with one, some with the other. For example, Lester Holt of the Today Show says “twenty ten”, but Matt Lauer (on the one day he hosted so far, January 1) said “two thousand and ten”.

    Time will tell. Happy new year.

    Sunday, January 3, 2010 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

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  1. […] Please see the comments on the original post … and thanks to all for the interest.* […]

  2. […] question about the pronunciation of labels for years in this decade continues to produce discussion. Now, I have audio grist for the mill. The following audio clip is from CKNW Radio (980am) in […]