Two thousand ten or twenty ten?

I had this question put to me in an English conversation club where I volunteer.

In Japanese, the western year 2009 is ni sen kyuu nen, which translates as: two thousand nine. It’s been consistent throughout the 2000’s. In the last century, we of course used to just say “nineteen”, like 1999 as nineteen ninety-nine. But here it was sen kyuu-hyaku kyuuzyuu-kyuu nen. (“One thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine”).

So what is next year?

My answer was: I don’t know yet.

Because there are so few references to 2010 in speech up to now, it’s not clear what English speakers will adopt. You hear “two thousand ten”, you hear “twenty ten”. Mostly people are saying, “next year”, which is just as accurate and avoids the issue.

Honestly, I am just as happy to avoid the issue because I’m not ready for 2010 anyhow!

I think naturally it will become “twenty ten” though, as a name. There are 90 more of these ahead in this century, even before twenty-one hundred rolls around. And it’s so much easier to say “twenty” than “two thousand”. One less syllable, and less imposing language.

“Twenty” is familiar–we even carry them in our pocket stateside. “Two thousand” just gained popularity because the first year in the series was, well, 2000. If it had been “twenty hundred” as a year, like “nineteen hundred” was, then this year would be “twenty-oh-nine”.

But in practice it didn’t work that way. And so “two thousand nine” sounds like a year, and “twenty-oh-nine” sounds like the room on the twentieth floor of a nice high-rise hotel.

So for me, next year from now on is twenty ten.

Plus, it goes back to the way we used to do things. Years starting 19 were “nineteen”, years starting 20 should be “twenty”.

And I even have a feeling the “two thousand”-named years we’ve lived already will get hotel room reference, in due time, throughout the rest of the 21st century–as the younger folks for whom this is their century start twenty-ing.