turn of the century

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Sat Apr 10 19:50:10 UTC 2010

Have we discussed whether the earlier or the later century is "turning"?

Logic suggests the earlier, usage (in my experience) the later.

Thus the "turn of the 20th C." has always meant, at least to me, 1900 not


On Sat, Apr 10, 2010 at 3:45 PM, Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at gmail.com>wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      turn of the century
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> 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.
> VS-)
> http://books.google.com/books?id=K40GAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA242
> 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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