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What will they call the class of ’00?

Dear Cecil:

I graduated from high school in the class of '71. Now I have a young daughter, and it dawned on me recently that if she matriculates in the usual way she will graduate from high school in June, 2000, which, as I have learned from your book More of the Straight Dope, is pronounced "June of the year two thousand." My question is, what will her class be called? I know how they'll write it, of course: Class of '00. But how will they say it? Class of Zero-Zero? Class of Oh-Oh? (Hmm.) Please hurry with your answer; she may be valedictorian and I don't want her to say the wrong thing in her speech.

Jeff Greenberg, New York

Illustration by Slug Signorino

Cecil replies:

As you know, Jeff, Cecil has been banging the gong about the pending crisis in decade names (of which your question is merely the latest reflection) for nigh on 20 years — so far, I am obliged to say, without noticeable result. What will we call the decade after the ’90s, I have patiently inquired — the Nothings? The Nixies? The Voids? Later, say the nation’s leaders. Right now we’re worrying about war, genocide, and national decline. It’s always something, says I.

Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking, and as your question indicates, it’s our children who will pay the price. My research so far, which consists of tossing this out to the Teeming Millions on the radio, has turned up the following: judging from somebody’s grandfather’s college yearbook, last time this problem arose (in 1900), they called it the Class of Aughty-Aught. Do you want your daughter to get up in front of her classmates and have to say that? I didn’t think so. Not to encourage antiintellectual behavior, but if she can’t avoid being valedictorian any other way, tell her to take a dive on that last physics quiz and let this particularly icky cup pass to someone else.

The Teeming Millions rise to the challenge

Dear Cecil:

In your article regarding the best pronunciation of the phrase “Class of ’00,” you missed what I think is the best alternative. For euphony and clarity, nothing beats “Class of Aught-Zero” in my opinion. This matches standard usage where the combination of the apostrophe and first zero have traditionally been called “aught.” I think “aught” is much clearer than “oh” (both are one syllable) since it signals that we are referring to an abbreviated year number rather than one of the many other uses of “oh.” As for brevity:Oh-oh: Two syllables, but poor because of ambiguous connotations and tendency to sound indistinct (uh-oh, uh-uh, uh-huh, oh-ho!) Aught-aught: Two syllables. Okay, but not very euphonious. Aughty-aught: Three syllables. Contrived, {aughty} is not a real word. Two-thousand: Three syllables. Okay, but leads to four-syllable names for 2001, 2002, etc. Aught-zero: Three syllables. Leads to nice two-syllable names for 2001, 2002, etc. Zero-zero: Four syllables. Sounds like the score in a close ball game.

— Sincerely yours in the quest for a more positive zero, John Stephenson

Dear Cecil:

My great-grandmother’s class of 1900 at Mount Holyoke College called themselves the Class of Naughty-Naught. She assured me it was because they viewed themselves as naughty.— Jay Vivian

The devils. OK, plenty of choices. Guess we’d better leave it to the kids.

An issue we hadn’t considered

Dear Cecil:

Regarding the question of what to say when the calendarometer turns over to two-triple-naught. let me say this: one ought not to say “aught”! Aught actually means “all” or “anything,” as in, “For aught we know, everyone may have gone mad.” The popular sense of aught as used to mean “zero” is actually self-contradictory (as aught means “something,” and zero means “nothing”), and all sensible people ought to drop it politely from use. This error was promulgated by people who heard someone say “nineteen naught eight” (1908) and mentally registered the wrong word. The only really correct word to use for buckshot graded as “0-0” is “double-naught buck,” not “double-aught,” see?

— Eric Palmquist, Mountain View, California

I see, Eric, and I really appreciate it. Just the same, I hope I’m never trapped in an elevator with you.

Further complications

Dear Cecil:

The debate over whether the millennium should be celebrated on January 1 of the year 2000 or 2001 prompts me to suggest a third (and fourth) alternative. Both sides of the debate overlook the fact that the millennium should be counted from the year Christ was born. Although our present AD/BC dating system is based on the assumption that Christ was born at the beginning of 1 AD, subsequent scholarship indicates the correct date was either 4 BC or 6 BC. If 4 BC is the correct date, then the millennium should be celebrated on January 1, 1997. If 6 BC, then the millennium begins on January 1, 1995, only a few months away. Do you think the best restaurants are already booked?

— Gary Greenberg, New York

Why stop at four dates? Factor in the 11-day correction for the Julian calendar and we get eight dates. Allow for variations in the dating of Christmas and New Year’s, changes in leap year computation, and fluctuations in the gravity field and we can celebrate every two weeks for the next 20 years.

Still at it

Dear Cecil:

One got by you. Jesus was not born in “either 4 BC or 6 BC” as your reader stated but 4 BC, the year of Herod’s death, or 6 AD, the date of the Roman census. We have data establishing censuses in Roman Egypt at 12-year intervals and an attempt has been made to apply this to Palestine, providing a hypothetical census in 6 BC. But this involves screwing with Luke’s Greek, “This was the first census …” Dionysius Exiguus (Denny the Dwarf), who set the 1 AD date, seems to have split the difference. If we party from 1997 to 2006 we’re bound to hit it.

— Tim Reynolds, Los Angeles

Most sensible suggestion I’ve heard yet.

Late update

As I write it is May 9, 2000 — mere weeks, or in some cases days, away from graduation, and as far as I know we still haven’t figured this out. Nor do we know what we’re going to call this decade. Well, too bad. I warned you. If Ms. Greenberg above has to say, “Greetings to the Class of Aughty-Aught,” and we have to stumble through the next nine and a half years calling this “the first decade of the twenty-first century,” don’t blame me.

Cecil Adams

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