What Year Is It?

Tomatoes, anyone?

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Happy New Year!  Maybe you’ve accidentally written 2016 on a check or other document recently, but my headline question isn’t really a stumper — it’s 2017, of course.  (Although, they say that after you put something out on the internet, it stays there “forever.”  Maybe it’s a different year by the time you’re reading this.  But I digress.)

What I’m really wondering is how you read the number.  Was it “two thousand seventeen” or “twenty seventeen”?  I hear the names of years spoken in each of these ways.  Does it matter which way we say it?  Is one way better than the other?  Or is it just a case of “you say puh-TAY-toe, I say puh-TAH-toe… tuh-MAY-toe… tuh-MAH-toe,” and so on (as suggested in the lyrics of that old jazz standard “Let’s call the whole thing off!”).

I prefer the latter pronunciation.  If I said I was born in 1968, I believe nobody would read that as “one thousand nine hundred sixty-eight.”  Of course, it’s “nineteen sixty-eight.”  We could have simply transitioned from “nineteen” to “twenty” as we moved into the new century.  To my ear, this second pronunciation sounds better, and just flows more easily off the tongue.  (By the way, if I said I was born in 1968, that would be a lie — er, I mean, a typo.  But I digress.)

Also consider this.  The second form of pronunciation contains only five syllables, whereas the first version has six.  So if you follow my suggestion, you save a syllable every time you name a year.  It’s more efficient.

(If you have thought about this as much as I apparently have, you have noticed that the efficiency argument didn’t help in the first decade.  “Two thousand seven” and “twenty oh seven” both have the same number of syllables.  And worse, “two thousand” is shorter than “twenty hundred” — but that case only arises once per millennium.  Besides, we were concerned with the Y2K bug back then; nobody was worrying about how to say the year.)

Finally, and I suppose I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, but let’s think about 2117 — it’s only 100 years away.  Will we say “two thousand one hundred seventeen” or “twenty-one seventeen”?  In the 22nd century, we could be saving three syllables each time!  So we might as well start using the best pronunciation now.

January 18, 2017