On a New Decade or Not

A few days before the end of the year I posted my top sports moments for the decade. Although nobody called me out on it, some would say that the list is subject to change because the decade is not over. One of my friends would say that since no year zero ever existed, decades go from years ending in 1 through the next year ending in 0. You may recall hearing similar arguments about the new millennium regarding 2000 and 2001.

Then along comes columnist Walter Williams who wrote these words in a column this week:

Here’s a sample of last week’s news reporting: “A new decade is about to start …”, “What better way to start a new year and decade …”, and “ABC ‘World News’ Decade Look-Back.” One would think that the first decade of the third millennium came to an end midnight Dec. 31 and the new decade began a minute after midnight. The truth of the matter is that we must wait another year before the new decade begins at 12:01 a.m. Jan. 1, 2011. Just do the math: The end of 2001 was the first year of the decade; the end of 2002 completed the second year and so forth. The end of 2009 completes the ninth year and the end of 2010 completes the 10th year and the end of the decade. One minute after midnight Jan. 1, 2011 begins the second decade of the third millennium.

Many reporters and talking heads will read this column and will still refer to 2010 as the new decade. My question: What is the most suitable characterization we can give them? I think it’s the same characterization we would make of a person who’s shown that an object is white and he insists upon calling it black — stupid. Then there’s the person who agrees that 2010 does not begin the next decade but prefers to say it’s the next decade anyway. For that person, reality is optional. Then there’s the person who steadfastly holds that 2010 begins the next decade because that’s what most people believe. He might be a politician.

Mr. Williams, although I appreciate your description of a politician, many would say they could also fit your first group (stupid) – but I won’t go there. However, you left out one additional group – the people whose limited view of the world and situations is extremely narrow and with selective filters. Mr. Williams, I am sure you know the type.

To set the record straight, decade has multiple meanings. A decade can be any 10-year span, such as 1953-1962. A decade can be a 10-year span beginning with the last digit as 0 through the next year ending in 9, such as the 1980s. Keep in mind though that the 1995-2005 span is not a decade because that is actually 11 years. However, if we are counting the decades since year 1, we are starting the last year of the 201st decade (2001-2010), which is Mr. Williams’ sole and myopic view of a decade.

To support my explanation, I site two respected dictionaries that style manuals commonly recognize: American Heritage and Merriam-Webster.

Mr. Williams also seems confused about the start of a new day. (He states one minute after midnight). Although displaying seconds is (and has been for a long time) a common feature on the time piece of choice, Mr. Williams continues his limited view of time while ignoring the second as the recognized international base unit of time.

Mr. Williams obviously does not recognize the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which establishes international standards for business, governments, and society throughout the world. ISO defines a calendar day as the time interval starting at midnight and ending at the next midnight, the latter being also the starting instant of the next calendar day.

Although Mr. Williams proudly boasts about his math skills in the column, his approach is a great example of fuzzy math. Since he implies that many people and ABC News are stupid, I will simply stick to the facts and keep my typical objective, broad perspective.