Feeling Naughty? Decade Remains Nameless

There were the aughts, the naughts, the ohs, the double-ohs, the two-Ks, the M&Ms, the zeroes, the 2000s, the tweens, the pre-teens, the milleni-os, the millie-nillies and others too silly to mention.

More than two years ago, The Washington Post, Voice of America and other media outlets held contests to name our decade. A Web site, namethedecade.com, claimed more than 100,000 hits and named a winner -- the Austin Powers-worthy, though impractical, "naughties."

Let's see: "It's time for another sexual revolution, baby. Get with it. It's the naughties. Yeah, baby! Yeah!" ... Or not. Or naught.

But it's mid-2002, and it -- you know, the thingamajig, this decade, right now, whatchamacallit -- still hasn't picked up a popular name. Shouldn't we have solved this by now?

Instead, we just have, "The first decade of the 21st century."

"You would have thought it would have been impossible for us to live without this, but it looks like we're going to," says Robert Thompson, a professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University.

"I started using the ohs, and it just didn't work," he added. "And the cute ones, you knew those couldn't stand. ... Are you going to hear Peter Jennings say something like, 'In the worst day of fighting so far in the M&Ms...?' There's no way that's going to work."

Doomed to Be Nameless?

But now that the flurry of naming ideas have subsided with no final resolution, we may have missed our chance, says Allan Metcalf, author of the forthcoming book, "Predicting New Words: The Secrets of Their Success," and an English professor at MacMurray College in Illinois.

"As each decade approaches, you get lots of articles summing up the decade just ending and predicting the next decade," he says, noting that already happened in the late 1990s. "If we're not saying it now, we won't be saying it later. It all boils down to that."

Others suggest there's still time, and the Sept. 11 attacks may even shape the name.

"Saying 'the '60s' had no meaning in 1961, although we all [think we] know what it means today," says Lee Clarke, a linguist at Rutgers University in New Jersey. "Same thing with 'the Reagan years,' the 'me generation,' and so on. In 2009, I predict, we will start naming this decade."

But Claude S. Fischer, a professor of sociology at the University of California at Berkeley, is not surprised naming the decade fell off people's radar, and doesn't think it ever ranked high on most people's list of concerns.

"You're talking about a relatively few people writing in the papers," he says. "I doubt Joe Blow coming off his work shift was worried about what he was going to call the years between 2000 and 2009."

The Need for a Name

Thompson cares about it, though. As a pop culture authority, it's his job to compare decades and spot trends in the current one. He finds it annoying not having a name -- and likens the problem to having to resort to "he or she," rather than a single, gender-neutral pronoun, decades after the women's rights movement.

"Once a day in a conversation, I will find myself awkwardly talking around an inability to describe where we are temporally right now in terms of the decade," he says. "There is a sense that until you really name something, you can't really get your hands around it or your teeth sunk into it."

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