The 2000s: A Decade of Doom or Diversions?

Lee Clarke, a sociologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey and author of "Worst Cases: Terror and Catastrophe in the Popular Imagination," predicted in 2002 that the aftermath of 9/11 would define the decade.

But from today's perspective, with the post-attack mind-set fading and no subsequent large-scale attacks on the U.S. mainland, he doesn't think it did, in the end.

"You develop some emotional distance, some emotional calluses," he says. "I'm now teaching students who were 11 years old, 10 years old, and pretty soon I'll be teaching students who were 5 years old, and eventually 9/11 will be out of the memory of anybody I'll teach."

To future generations, he believes, the decade's definition may "depend upon what has happened recently. If we have another big disaster event, we'll go back and highlight the importance of Katrina and 9/11 and the 2004 tsunami. ... But if there's been a lull in events for awhile, maybe we'll say, 'Look at those investment bankers, they really brought us to our knees.'"

From Naughties to No Name

When revisionist historians look back, what will they call the decade when those terrorists, disasters and investment bankers struck?

When the decade began, we debated whether we were entering the 2000s, the ohs, the aughts, the naughts or the milleni-os -- and maybe we still don't know.

As the decade dawned, Alan Shusterman tried to provide the answer, co-founding a Web site, NameTheDecade.com, that got more than 100,000 hits and produced a winning term -- "the naughties." But as Shusterman acknowledges now, the '90s called, and they want their name back.

"The sense that comes out of that was more of a '90s feel," he says. "The '90s were a sort of fun, light decade ... and I feel the last decade was a kind of somber, serious time. I think that name was a bit looking backward rather than looking forward."

Shusterman, who currently works as co-founder of the Web site jobnob.com, referred to "the decade" as well as "the 2000s" and "the zeros" during a recent interview. He still had hope in a 2002 interview that the first decade of the 21st century would get a definitive name by the time it ended, but now admits he still sees no consensus.

Some linguists, such as Allan Metcalf, a professor of English at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill., and author of "Predicting New Words: The Secrets of Their Success," don't believe a consensus name would emerge, arguing that some things just defy being named.

"I was right," Metcalf notes in an e-mail. "There still is no widely accepted way of referring to the current decade. That's because it doesn't fit the pattern of twenties through nineties. So there won't be a numerical name for the next decade either. It will be such a relief to get to the twenties!

"A generation name would be helpful," he adds. "But those are subjective and arguable. ... We'll just have to continue living under the burden of paraphrase. Somehow we'll survive!

We'll survive biologically, that is. Maybe not historically.

The Lost Decade

Batchelor, the author of "The 2000s," who will soon be teaching at Kent State University in Ohio, worries the lack of a common way to refer to the decade has significance -- and might even doom it to oblivion.

"People are eager enough to have something that we'll start talking about the teens when we get to 2013," he says.

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