turn of the century

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sat Apr 10 19:45:08 UTC 2010

This is not quite Y2K, but it is a good summary of the turn of the
century/decade, etc., arguments as they have been practiced for
generations. It seems the problem was never far from the minds of the
chattering classes. After all, 1878 is nowhere near any round-figure
year, like 1800. It's even two years away from 1880--if they even
bothered to worry about "decades" back then.



The Atlantic Monthly. Vol. 42:250. August, 1878
The Contributors' Club. p. 242
> — It is a favorite assertion of the mathematicians that figures cannot
> lie; yet here are two learned contributors to an educational journal
> of high rank fairly by the ears over the expression "1800 A. D." One
> contends that it marks the last year of the eighteenth century; the
> other rejoins, with a quiet assurance which is suggestive of Mr.
> Furnivall, that it cannot indicate anything but the first year of the
> nineteenth century,— in other words, that the year 1800 A. D. was the
> 1801st year of the Christian era. I have been greatly entertained by
> the argument of the latter writer. In setting up mile-stones, he says,
> we do not put No. 1 at the starting-point, but at the end of the first
> mile. "In referring to the clock at the beginning of the day, we do
> not call the time 1 o'clock, but 0 o'clock [do we, though?], and
> during the first hour we read 0-05, 0-10, etc., until one hour has
> passed, when we read 1 o'clock." So also the one used to denote a
> child's age is used not at birth but at the end of the first year.
> Having elaborated these three examples, the writer asks, "Why do not
> these same rules apply in the use of dates for marking points or
> divisions of an era? Why should not the dates 1, 100, or 1800 be
> understood to denote that one year, one hundred or eighteen hundred
> years have passed since the beginning of'the era?" Apparently he sees
> no radical difference between separating dates and separated periods.
> To apply his idea, he says that during the first year of the era one
> might properly write " April 12 ;" during the second year, "April 12,
> 1;" the latter expression indicating that one year and three months
> have passed, and that the twelfth day of the fourth month of the
> second year of the era is now reached.
> I still cling to the delusion of my bovhood, however, and wonder why,
> if the mile-stone argument is apt for the year, it is not equally so
> for the day; why, if the 1 shows that one year has passed and the
> second has been reached, the 12 does not in like manner show that
> twelve days of the month have passed and the thirteenth has been reached.

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