Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Aught? Why Naught?

A local reporter called yesterday, asking if we could set up an interview for a story he wants to pursue. His topic? As our decade is drawing to a close, what should we name the last ten years?

We were unable to find a mutually workable time in our schedules, but we had a pleasant phone chat on the topic anyway. Here's the gist...

It seems that most media-types refer to the years between 2000 and 2009 as "the aughts." There's precedent for that choice going back to the turn of the last century. However "the aughts" has not caught on this time around -- most likely because of its archaic sound (fit for horse and buggy-times perhaps, but not for these days).

However, the reporter's research suggested another explanation for why we generally don't refer to the last decade as "the aughts:" Perhaps the passing decade doesn't seem "finished" enough to name.

Think about it.

The pivotal event of the last ten years - 9/11 - punctured us in ways we still don't fully understand. We're still engaged in the wars we launched after the September 11th attacks, and we're not wrapping those wars up anytime soon. Indeed, it seems as if we're digging ourselves deeper and deeper into those quagmires.

Then there's the other big news of the decade: The collapse of banks, housing prices -- heck, entire countries (Wanna buy Iceland? I hear it's on sale at eBay). These problems erupted in the past ten years, but they are hardly resolved enough to call forth a name. Just as with the wars that confound us, we're still stuck in the economic mess that marks our times.

We'd love to name this miserable era if only to render it safely past-tense. But the last ten years remain frustratingly present.

In contrast, we can easily spot the end of previous decades...

The fifties? Kennedy's election

The sixties? Altamont

The seventies? Some would say Reagan's election, but my vote goes to Disco Demolition Night in Chicago's Cominskey Park.

The eighties? The fall of the Wall

The nineties? Hmm. Can you guess?

Anyway, while the reporter and I couldn't schedule a formal interview, we enjoyed the opportunity to chat about how history and language sometimes converge to shape meaning -- and sometimes team up to destabilize meaning-through-naming altogether.

December 31, 2009 will mark a turning point in a chronological way, no doubt. Naming that turn? Maybe we're just not ready yet.

1 comment:

Jefe Mayor said...

I am not as interested in what people wish to name the decade as to why they want to name it. It seems there is an unconscious belief that by naming it people can gain control of it. That by naming the past people can either feel closer to or distance from events as if they are empowering themselves with some mystical ability. It is simply the past. Unyielding, unchanging and and no more important than one wishes it to be.

Remember, learn, and then let it go.