Thursday, November 18, 2004


The zilches

How OUGHT we prounce our present decade, the '00s?

In the post election gloom, as my small but determined handful of readers drift away from this blog and I wonder whether I can ever blog again, I suddenly remember that I can blog about other things than politics.

We have a problem in our current decade. Not only will Bush be president for most of it, but there's been very little discussion about how to pronounce it. Everyone knows how to say the names of former decades -- like "the '60s"-- all the way on up to "the '90s".

In quainter times, the first decade of the century would have, I suppose, been called "the oughts." The word "ought," which is also rendered "aught," is a somewhat archaic term for zero. So if I were to talk about last year by saying, "In ought-three ['03], I had high hopes that evil would be defeated in the ought-four presidential elections," I would sound something like Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man trying to con the local townspeople into starting a school-children's band in early 20th century small town America. And I can't say I ever heard of a decade being called "the oughts."

Given Bush's re-election, there is a certain justice to it, though. "The oughts" suggests an unreached standard, as in: "We ought to be doing something about controlling greenhouse gases [but our president doesn't believe in global warming]." On second thought, perhaps the "shoulda's" would be more to the point.

If we really to characterize the decade by the accomplishments or intellect of our president, we could refer to the decade as the "zero, zip, nadas," or perhaps more onomatopoeically, "the zilches."

By the way, is there any word in the dictionary that, ironically, means less like what it sounds like than "onomatopoeia"?

You might think it would be most obvious to call our current decade "the O's." Certainly, one strategy for coping with post-election sadness is to busy oneself with having as many big "Os" as one possibly can. But has there ever been a decade in which we've racked up as many "Os" as we'd hoped?

I have to say, I like "the zilches." As in: "when George w Bush was elected president, the nation entered the zilches."

Okay, so let's all agree to pronouce our decade -- numerically, the " '00s" -- as "the zilches."

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