Sunday, January 1, 2012

Once and for all, how do we pronounce these 21st-century years?

Welcome to 2012!

Now tell me: When you read that first line, specifically the year "2012," did it sound out in your head as "twenty-twelve?" Or as "two thousand twelve?" I need an official ruling here, and I'm nominating our little blog group as the Global Committee on Year Pronunciation. Whatever we decide will apply to everyone in the world, so let's think this one through carefully.

For the past several years, I didn't think this was an issue at all. It seemed pretty universal that people would say "two thousand," rather than "twenty." I don't look at a date from 2005 and think, "Oh, that happened in twenty-oh-five."

But over the past year or so, ever since we entered the second decade of the century, the "twenty" people have been gaining traction. I always referred to the past year as "two thousand eleven," but more and more I'm hearing "twenty eleven." And everyone seems to do it more often when they refer to future years like "twenty fifteen" and "twenty twenty."

Let's lay out the arguments for each approach, using 2015 as our test year:

The people in this camp base their argument on two main points:

(1) PRECEDENT: Back in the 20th century (remember way back then?), the years always started with "nineteen." I was born in nineteen sixty-nine, not "one thousand nine hundred and sixty-nine." If it was good enough then, it's good enough now, the argument goes.

(2) ONE FEWER SYLLABLE: Saying "twenty" is shorter than saying "two thousand." Easy enough to understand.

Again, there's also some precedent here, since we all spent the past 10 years saying "two thousand." That began right on January 1, 2000, when no one was going to call the new year "twenty zero zero" or anything like that. Why do we suddenly change 10 or 11 years into the century? You might also argue that "twenty" just sounds different than "nineteen" -- better, really -- and that we can't apply a 20th-century pronunciation paradigm to our current time.

I have to say, I'm in the latter camp here. My vote is for "two thousand fifteen," rather than "twenty fifteen." BUT...I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise.

I'll leaving it to you, genius readers. What say ye on this matter? Feel free to comment below.


  1. Well, I am not going to be much help here because I must admit to using both pronunciations of the year. I think that there are just days that I feel more formal than others or that there are times that speed is more important than being technically correct in my utterance of the year. I do refer to my address as Ten Twenty-Two and not One Thousand Twenty-Two but if it were money, I would pronounce it One Thousand Twenty-Two dollars and not Ten Twenty-Two dollars.
    Sorry for the lack of commitment here. I'm just glad that we don't have to discuss whether it's Two Thousand Five or Twenty oh 5 or Twenty aught 5 or..... well, you get the point.
    Good luck with your search for an answer, I will be following this with great excitement!

  2. Oh my, Bhew wrote "aught!" I'm a police officer. Our new night dispatcher kept saying "double aught 8" (or whatever minute it happened to be)when saying the time. I knew what she meant, but had no idea what the heck she was saying!! Anywho, this is a lot to think about after a long night with a little too much wine and not quite enough sleep, but, I will have to say that both work just fine. "Two thousand twelve" should always be used in formal matters, however. Regardless of how it's said, I hope its a good one! Happy New Year!

  3. Around our kitchen table, we've come up with a hybrid proposal. For the first nine years in the century, we'll use two-thousand and x and for the rest of the century, we'll use the twenty-x convention.
    We have agreed to test this out for a few centuries and reconvene in twenty four hundred (or is that two thousand four hundred) to analysize and make recommendations.

  4. Definitely twenty twelve now we have lost the noughts but two thousand will always be correct and acceptable. Remember us Aussies already put too much into the pronunciation just by putting the T in twenty!!! Ha ha ha