pet peeve: “decade”

I’ve heard a particular phrase over the past few weeks that is not being questioned or taken to task:

“last ______ of the decade”
“top ten ______ of the decade”
“end of the first decade of the 21st century”

Rubbish. The year 2010 is the last year of the decade, not 2009. The year 2009 is the NINTH year of the first decade of the 21st century. We have another year to go.

The year 2000 was the LAST year of the 20th century, and 2001 was the FIRST year of this one. We are taking a change of digit in the TENS column to make a huge poorly worded leap for catchy headlines. Mathematically and linguistically, we are WRONG on this one in the media. I haven’t heard it spoken or read it written correctly. And it bites my butt.

That’s it, off my chest. Carry on if you must, but take care to not totally destroy our civility in the process.


9 thoughts on “pet peeve: “decade”

  1. Patrick says:

    You’re quite right: I’ll remind my producers about this the next time I see a script that uses it incorrectly.

    They LOVE it when I point out things like this! πŸ™‚

  2. jeremy says:


    you can’t have the “90’s” without 1990… or “Aughts” without 2000…. So 2000-2009 is a decade. We’re not talking counting, here, we’re talking years.

  3. Rick says:

    You’re not wrong, just not right – it’s mixing the metaphor. Either it’s the end of the aughts, or it’s the end of the first decade, but not BOTH. Zero is not the first year, 01 is. 2009 is the end of the ten year period from 2000 to 2009. But it’s not the last year of the first decade of this century; it’s the ninth. That’s counting, not years. You can’t have both, and the words are being used wrong.

    Like to have your cake AND eat it, too, don’t you?

  4. jeremy says:

    of course… what the hell is the point in a cake if you can’t eat it!


  5. jeremy says:

    oh, but since a “decade” only means “a period of ten years” … i can start counting whenever i want to… 1995-2004 is a decade, so … therefor, all of your media friends just happened to start counting when the rest of those of us who live in common sense world start counting… at the zero year of any given… um… thing (since i can’t use “decade” now)… like okay, you know what i mean now.

    fix your definition of decade or suck it up πŸ™‚

  6. Rick says:

    Like I said, you’re not wrong – just not right :). Patrick made a good point on his blog, that in 2011 we’ll probably see articles on the decade after 9/11. The decade is arbitrary, whatever ten years you want. But the first decade of this century started in 2001, not 2000. Like I said, mixing the timelines – it’s bad. Like Ghostbusters bad.

  7. Blake says:

    While I agree with the idea of the year 2000 being the last year of the 2nd millennium and even the concept of the year “10” finished the first decade because there was no YEAR ZERO. It had to start at year 1, right?

    But for the sake of decades it makes no sense to think that the 80’s were the years 81-90. So either one of two things happened. Either the first decade on the AD calendar was only 9 years, or the first and 2nd decade shared year #10.

  8. Mika Salakka says:

    To paraphrase my reply to Patrick’s post, as a father you must have celebrated your child’s second birthday on the first anniversary of his/her birth; since the day they were born was their first birthday.

    In the same vein, I suppose this means that my wife, who was born in 1980, was in fact born in the ’70s. I’m sure she can’t wait to be told that.

    It’s not that I disagree with what you’re saying, but the fact is that in the headlines and in our culture in general the coolness factor of watching 1999 roll into 2000 or 2009 roll into 2010 is significantly higher than, say, watching 2011 roll around. Then again, being considered a killjoy is a small price to pay for being semantically accurate.

  9. Patrick says:

    I still prefer the End of the ’00s to the End of the Decade.

    I have no problem with “decade” being “any” ten years. But you can’t end “this” decade before it’s over. The difference is minor, but it’s still a difference.

    With regard to your earlier question to Jeremy: “Like to have your cake AND eat it, too, don’t you?” I would refer you to this line from the little-known Dudley Moore comedy, “Mickey and Maude:”

    “It’s EAT your cake and HAVE it to. To have it and eat it, anyone can do. To eat it and stil HAVE it, THAT’S the trick!”

    Happy new year!

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