Use Your Fingers

Bo Derek The movie ’10’ was tagged “a comedy for adults who can count”. Yeah, we could use more of those. From the Money & Markets column in yesterday’s Providence Journal, a Thomson Reuters item starts, “We have just four months left until the end of the decade.” Say what? The last year of a ten-year period is the tenth year, right?  The decade will end December 31st, 2010. (Poor Bo, turns out her braids were too tight and she turned into a Republican.)

10 thoughts on “Use Your Fingers”

  1. Annie Messier

    (I could have sworn I commented this already, but my computer’s been wonky lately.)
    This reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Newman plans a party for December 31, 1999 and Jerry tells him, “As everyone knows, since there was no year zero, the millennium doesn’t begin until the year two-thousand and one. Which would make your party one year late–and thus, quite lame.”
    That’s always bothered me. Shouldn’t he have said one year EARLY?

  2. the first year of the ’90s is 1990, the last year of the 90’s is 1999 – for a total of ten years or a decade. It doesn’t work for 9AD because there wasn’t really a year zero. There is a zero at the beginning of each decade tho. This is indeed the last year of the oughts.

  3. Every ten years people get bent out of shape over this (“West Wing” even had an episode about it). I just find it amusing that people get so upset over what ultimately amounts to a nothing issue. Honestly, what does it matter?

  4. Yes, Marc, the millennium is almost a teenager. If I don’t miss my guess, this curent decade will be referred to as little as possible, so I’m not too worried. (My money is on the “ohs”.)

    And I thoroughly endorse your Official Beginning of Time 9-year Decade Exemption. Question is: will the unions go along?

  5. I hereby make a motion for the ‘first decade’ to be recognized as only nine years long, thereby making the last 199 end on sensible boundaries.

    Either that, or the first decade should be defined as starting in 1 B.C.. Either way, they both accomplish the goal without causing any fuss.

  6. The reckoning would be arbitrary, were the starting point not known. But we do know it.

    The key to all this is: There is no Year Zero.

    Our annual counting system begins with Year 1, immediately following Year -1. By the end of Year 1, one year has transpired. At the end of Year 5, five years have transpired. And at the end of Year 10, ten years have transpired. At the end of Year 9, only nine years have transpired. Thus, the system starts with 1’s and ends with 0’s, and the end of a period of years that is a factor of 10 — decade, century, millennium — ends with the year of that period ending in zero. Thus The Millennium that we got so het up over awhile back actually closed at the end of 2000, not the end of 1999 as so many people clearly believed. (The Y2K problem did kick in at the start of 2000, but that’s unrelated to how we count years.)

    The current decade closes at the end of next year, 2010, not at the end of this year. We’ve got sixteen months left, not four.

    However, as the business world often works by different calendars, a given fiscal decade may well close at the end of this year. I don’t have any reference to the original article, so I couldn’t guess what specific reckoning they’re using.

  7. I agree that the first day of ‘the thirties’ was January 1st, 1930. But the first day of the decade was January 1st, 1931.

  8. So are you saying that the last year of the first decade was 9 A.D.?

  9. So by that logic, the nineties ended not on December 31st, 1999, but on December 31st, 2000?

    I think decades, as we commonly use them end when the number in the ‘tens’ digit changes, meaning that this decade, which started January 1st, 2000 will yield to the next, on January 1st, 2010.

    The real question is what to call it. The last decade was called either the ‘two thousands’ or ‘the noughts’, the latter more popular in the U.K. What will this one be? ‘The ‘teens’?

  10. I’m not sure this is so obvious. By your terms, June 30, 1960 was planted firmly in the 50s rather than mid-way into the first year of the decade we call “the 60s.” That doesn’t make much sense; I certainly think of 1990 as part of the 90s. I think the correct “math” is to think of 1999 as the last year of the decade we call “the 90s” and therefore think of “this” decade as beginning on Jan. 1, 2000. So, indeed, we are less than four months from the end of the decade. This is really a definitional issue rather than a math issue. And it is one that is open to debate, but I think you are wrong on. See:,9171,763141,00.html regarding the first day of the 30s being Jan. 1, 1930

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