31 Dec 2009 11:00 am   //   Filed under: Labeling

I don’t know what to call this lousy decade either

What’s the proper style for referring to the years 2000 to 2009? I’ve just been fudging it, calling this decade “this decade.” When there is ambiguity as to which decade I mean—and there will be starting tomorrow—I refer to it in print as “the 00s,” spoken as “the aughts.” Linguistically correct or just close enough? I don’t know. But neither does anybody else.

This week, columnists for both The New Yorker and The New York Times decided to hang their arguments on the fact that the decade has no name.

This is important. Names define how we think. The best way to get people to take a concept seriously is to name it with precision (“climate change,” “war on terror”); the sneakiest way to fight an idea is to give it a confusing name with sinister connotations (“death panels,” “illegal immigrants”).

What are some other things without names?

– The Apple tablet computer.

– The fourth Led Zeppelin album.

The unlabeled neighborhood on the New York City taxi map

– The act of thinking outside the box.

– The H1N1 virus. (Which is, obviously, a name. But we were forced to retreat to a scientific name after a popular name—swine flu—was rejected for lack of precision.)

– The horse in this America song.

– A woman who catches fish. (OK, technically, Merriam-Webster says “fisherwoman” is a word, but I’ve heard people insist it’s not. It’s not in my spell checker.)

– The narrator in “Fight Club.”