Ready to Ring in the New Decade? You May Have to Wait Another 12 Months

By Jonathan Spira on 9 December 2019
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Ready to celebrate the new decade and the start of what may be the Roaring 20s when ringing in the New Year in a few weeks?

Not everyone is.

The 1920s was a decade of economic growth and prosperity with distinctive cultural developments.  Known in France as the années folles, or crazy years, and also referred to as the Jazz Age, it was the decade that saw the advent of commercial aviation, the large-scale use of automobiles, movies, radio, and the telephone.  Indeed, jazz gained tremendous popularity, and everyone wanted to look like a flapper.

While 2020 may be the first year in this century and millennium to be a twenty-something, it isn’t the start of the decade.  Or is it?

A little explanation is required.  The Gregorian calendar is based on a calendar system known as anno Domini, that is based on the year of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, a first-century Jewish teacher whom most Christians consider to be the incarnation of God the Son.  The anno Domini calendar was created in 525 by a sixth-century monk, Dionysius Exiguus, using Roman numerals.  Exiguus labeled the years starting with the birth of Jesus as AD 1, or 1 CE, and the year that immediately preceded as 1 BC, or 1 BCE because there is no Roman numeral for zero,

Because there is no zero year in Exiguus’ scheme, those who celebrated the start of the 21st century and the third millennium when the Gregorian calendar went from 1999 to 2000 were exactly 12 months off.  For the record, the first century ended at midnight on December 31, 100, and the tenth century ended at midnight on December 31, 1000.

Further, the United States Naval Observatory, one of the oldest scientific agencies in the country, with a mission of serving as the “authoritative source for the positions and motion of celestial bodies, motions of the Earth, and precise time,” held that the new millennium began on January 1, 2001 and the Naval Observatory is ultimately responsible for how satellites, global positioning systems, and even your iPhone keep time.

The second decade of the third millennium started in 2011 and the third decade will start in 2021.  But it isn’t really that simple.  While the start of the new century may be unambiguous, the start of a new decade is less so.

Given that decades are usually characterized by their numbers (hence the moniker “Roaring 20s” was applied to the third decade of the 19th century), and will undoubtedly be called the 20s, it will be hard to argue that the 20s don’t start with the year 2020.

The upcoming decade will also be less cumbersome to write and speak of than the current decade or even the first decade of the current century – the twenty-tens and the aughts, respectively – and thousands of copyeditors across the globe will be giving thanks for the start of the new decade right after they watch “Dinner for One” on the evening of December 31, 2019.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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