History of 2020: The Beginning of the New Decade?

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You’ve seen articles everywhere discussing the end of the decade or declaring that 2020 is the beginning of the new decade.

Q: Isn’t 2020 the beginning of the new decade?

  • 2020 is the beginning of a new decade — as any year is
  • But it is not the beginning of the new decade

Q: But the year ends in Zero. If 2010 was the beginning of the decade and 2000 was the beginning of the new millennium, how can 2020 not be the beginning of the new decade?

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Because 2010 was not the beginning of the decade, as I explained a decade ago here. And 2000 was not the beginning of the Third Millennium. That is why Arthur C. Clarke was careful to name his space odyssey 2001, not 2000.

Q: If I turn 20 years old, I’ve started a new decade. Why isn’t it the same with the calendar year?

Here’s the source of the bewilderment:

Confusing age with date.

When you’re born, how old are you? Zero.

After you’ve lived for a year, you turn One and start your second year of life, which culminates with you becoming Two.

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It doesn’t work that way with dates. Our modern calendar starts at 1 AD; there was no Year Zero. The Romans at the time of Jesus did not use the number Zero; they had a positional numbering system. Zero came from the Arabic numbering system. So Jesus was born 753 a.u.c. or Ab Urbe Condita, or from the founding of the city of Rome, as I explain elsewhere. In any event, the Roman Empire likely didn’t mark Jesus’ birth.

The church did that later with the common use of dating things Before Christ (BC) and “In the Year of Our Lord” Anno Domini (AD), by the monk Dionysius Exiguus in 525 AD, and subsequently formalized in the modern Gregorian Calendar, as I describe here.

At this point, you’re probably thinking:

“Didn’t it seem odd to people at the time that one year it’s 1 BC, and the next year it’s 1 AD?”

You would think so, except, of course, they weren’t using the Gregorian Calendar that we currently use. Instead, they used the Julian Calendar, named after the calendar reforms of that famous Roman Julius Caesar, who subsequently got a month named after him.

Q: So when did the first decade end and the second one begin?

According to our current Gregorian Calendar, the first decade started in 1 AD and ended after 10 AD; the second one began in 11. Hence, the Third Millennium began in 2001, the third decade of which starts in 2021.

Rule of thumb: years ending in One start the decade, those years ending in Zero are the end of the decade.

Q: Will this newly understood truth make any difference in how we refer to 2020?

Not according to an Internet market research poll conducted earlier this month. It asked 13,582 Americans whether the following decade would begin on New Years Day 2020 or New Years Day 2021. Results showed that:

  • 64% of Americans answered the next decade will begin on January 1, 2020, and will end on December 31, 2029.
  • 19% of the Americans surveyed replied they are unsure.
  • 17% answered the next decade will begin on January 1, 2021, and will end on December 31, 2030.

The rolling of the odometer (chronometer) from 2019 to 2020, as it did with 2000, will present an irresistible desire to call it THE new decade.

Happy New Year!

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

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Silicon Valley Tech Exec: Cloud, Data Storage, Automation. Author of fascinating articles about history, tech trends, andpop culture. Blog: http://billpetro.com

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