Thursday, December 31, 2009

On Syllabic Efficiency --- "Twenty Ten" Or "Two Thousand Ten"?

So, for something light on the last day of the decade during which we have said "two thousand one" and "two thousand nine" and so on, even though we say "ten sixty six" when referring to the date of the Norman conquest of England. Allow me to define "syllabic efficiency" as saying something with the fewest syllables.

During this still nameless decade it has been of equal syllabic efficiency to say "two thousand one" versus "twenty oh one," which was the alternative nobody ever did, probably because since 1968, if not earlier, we had been saying "Two Thousand One: A Space Odyssey" for the book/movie by Arthur C. Clarke, which put us into a path dependence favoring saying "two thousand." Now we are at the potential switch point where it would be more syllabically efficient from tomorrow on to say "twenty..." rather than "two thousand..." by one syllable, because there is no more need to say that "oh" that nobody said anyway. In listening I have heard a split in speaking of next year, with some people saying "twenty ten" and some saying "two thousand ten." Which will it be, folks? Will syllabic efficiency (and the practice prior to this century) win out, or will be stuck with syllabic inefficiency due to a path dependence that Arthur C. Clarke bequeathed to us?


Min said...

After the successes of oh-8 and oh-9, how about oh-10? ;)

Anonymous said...

It's not really Arthur C. Clarke and 2001, it's the "year two thousand" that set the pattern. We may say ten-sixty-six, but nobody would say ten-oh-oh (though it's a moot point for the most part because it was a non-noteworthy year in the middle of the Dark Ages).

The interesting question is, at what point will future generations retroactively refer to the years of this decade as twenty-oh-nine? It will come naturally to young people coming of age, but what about the rest of us? I'd bet it will happen sooner than you'd think... within ten years at most.

Martin Langeland said...

Min: Let's hope it will not be "Uh-oh ten"

Barkley: What about date notation efficiency? I prefer 9/12/9 to 09/12/09.
Then I got new checks and found the date line changed to "_____, 20____" forcing me back to 09 for the year. Humpf.
Happy New Year all"

Barkley Rosser said...


I still blame Clarke, or those quoting Clarke. Nobody said "the year one thousand nine hundred" that I am aware of. Why did we say "the year two thousand" rather than "the year twenty hundred"? I would still argue that it was at least partly because since at least 1968 when the movie came out everybody had been saying "two thousand one: a space odyssey."


You have my sympathy, and, Min, yeah, hope it is not uh oh.

Ken Houghton said...

Well, "The Year We Make Contact" is six syllables, which is either two or three too long.

"Twenty ten" sounds as if it's a telephone number.

Anonymous said...

Seven DA
Still only three syllables but has an interesting ring to it. 'Seven Dee Ay' sounds too much like a radio station.
'Seven Dah', I think.

media said...

this may be off topic but maximum entropy arguments have been applied to show why words among iother things have various distributions of sizes (like everything else can be justified this way). so its probably just due to chance, or thermodynamics (which presumably are the same thing).
(if a theory explains something, then that shows the theory is right, and you dont need to waste time looking for other mechanisms.)
syllables i guess are different, but i think you can predict the stock market by sampling pop song types on the radio, so sound can be converted to digital data, as heat can light.
or 'white light...white heat' (VU.)

Barkley Rosser said...

Curiously, someone has told me that Arthur C. Clarke himself referred to the original book as "Twenty oh one...", so maybe it was Stanley Kubrick who made the movie or some marketing schmuck at the studio who got everyone saying "Two thousand one..." after the movie came out in 1968.

Shag from Brookline said...

If Kubrick had anticipated Bush v. Gore, he might have come up with this title:

"Two-oye!-oye!-one!: A Spaced Oddity!"

Bruce Webb said...

This horse left the stable years before Clark and Kubrick took a concept turned storyboard turned multi drafts of novel turned screenplay turned novel (you can read the book "Lost Worlds of 2001" to see how Clarke originally proposed to take the story) to understand the convention that will rule. SF writers from the Golden Age on have expressed the year 2346 as twenty-three twenty-six as did the cheesy 1969 AM hit "In the year 2525" pronounced 'twenty-five twenty-five'.

I suspect the awkward 'o' for 'zero' locution and 'x thousand and' one will be back on the shelf until 3001. At which point I am thinking it won't be my problem.

It's 'twenty ten' and so on for the next 99.9% of the millenium.
Khans while inretrospect the year 1000 was kind of a dud, there was a lot of last days apocalyptic talk and action leading up to it. See Cohn's Pursuit of the Millenium (1970). The Eleventh Century was in Northern Europe a period of amazing creativity as people uncrouched and realized that Viking raids over the last 200 years were NOT in fact visible signals of the End Times.

Kaleberg said...

It was Cleopatra twenty-five, twenty five. (Wow, was that a bad show, except, maybe, for the combat bikinis.) Of course, that show came out in two thousand. Still, I'm hoping it's twenty ten, or I'm dating my checks wrong.

Bruce Webb: It's good to see another Norman Cohn fan. His Europe's Inner Demons was fantastic.