Age of the Aughts?

The emerging consensus on what to call this decade. Going into this column, I assumed this decade was still nameless, like a stray dog or...

The emerging consensus on what to call this decade.

Going into this column, I assumed this decade was still nameless, like a stray dog or pretentious artwork. My reasons: 1) I hear a lot of people saying that, 2) a couple of excellent writers have made the point before, and 3) I didn't know what to call this decade myself.

But as Wordnik cofounder Erin McKean likes to say, lexicography (dictionary-making) is a science. Hypotheses are made and tested, then accepted or rejected. Making dictionaries (or having a language column) is a fact-based enterprise, or at least it should be. And the fact is we are living in the aughts, even if we don't all realize it yet. Examples like these prove it:

"Did you miss the greatest rock n' roll band of the aughts?"
Aug. 25, 2009, Totally Fuzzy

"Quentin Tarantino: Has one of the most overrated directors of the '90s become one of the most underrated of the aughts?"
Aug. 20, 2009, Dennis Lim, Slate

"Appraisals were one of the positive reinforcement mechanisms of the residential real estate inflation of the early to mid-aughts."
Aug. 19, 2009, The Big Picture

"Although we all grew up in the '80s and '90s, we students have experienced our middle school, high school and college memories in the same decade-the aughts."
Aug. 17, 2009, Carolyn Crist,

"Is there a factor to back out the bubble effect of the late 90's and mid-aughts?"
Aug. 13, 2009, EconomPic Data

Though a lot of other possibilities have been bandied about-more on them in a sec-the aughts is the only name that appears so often and so matter-of-factly. Much as I enjoy language uses that are bizarre (like the President's "wee-weed up" comment) or virtuosic (like "de-clutter-ification"), when you're looking for genuine signs of a word's success and acceptance, you can't beat unremarkable examples that fly under the radar but somehow pile up like a Buffalo snow drift. With the exception of "the noughties"-which has gained similar steam in England and Australia-I can't find any other terms for the decade that are being used so commonly and casually, without a wink or quotation marks.

A gold star for word-predicting should go to Visual Thesaurus Editor Ben Zimmer, who speculated on OUP Blog in 2007 that "aughts" had a good chance of winning the race, despite the fact that "aught" isn't exactly a common word for zero. Zimmer noted that the archaic-sounding word is commonly used in the United States to describe the years 1900 to 1909, and that "mid-aughts" was already starting to pick up steam, potentially sparing us the silliness of no-naming, which Zimmer explained was "...when a radio station announces that it plays ‘hits from the '80s, '90s… and today!'"

Despite the success of "aughts," recent tweets show some people are still paralyzed-or at least amused-with uncertainty as to how they will linguistically look back on 2000 to 2009:

"Amazing how 9 years into this decade there's still no consensus on what to call it. Can we just go with @maddow's ‘two-thousandsies'?"
Aug. 21, 2009, Mike McCaffrey

"So we had the 60's, 70's 80's, and 90's. But what will we call this decade? I'm gonna vote for the Zero's!"
Aug. 19, 2009, shaythai

"Considering its focus on terror and uncertainty, I propose we call this decade ‘The Dread Naughts'"
Aug. 18, 2009, Fred Zelany

"@rands I propose we call this decade ‘The Holes."
Aug. 18, 2009, rstevens

Other names suggested over the years have included the "diddly-squats," "the double naughts," "the double nuts," "the double ohs," "the double zeroes," "the goose eggs," "the naughties," "the naughts," "the nillies," "the nots," "the oh-ohs," "the pre-teens," "the uh-ohs," "the unies," "the zeds," "the zero zeros," and "the zilches." "The aughts" feels like an antique by comparison, a verbal relic like "thou" or "fishmonger". But some antiques still get the job done.


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