Monday, April 08, 2013

Stating the Year, Morrissey-Style

So I was listening to The Smiths on the drive home from work, like you’re supposed to on a Monday, and I noticed this peculiar line from “The Headmaster Ritual” — “Sir leads the troops / Jealous of youth / Same old jokes since nineteen-two.” Morrissey means 1902, and earlier in the song he sings a similar line, “Same old suit since nineteen-sixty-two.” I guess we can credit this weird pronunciation either to Moz being Moz or to some Manchester affect that I’m not aware of. But it made me wonder: Why don’t we say “nineteen-two”? Why do we stick the “oh” in there — and it’s always “oh” or “aught” or something, never “zero” even though we’re talking about numbers. It’s an extra syllable you’d think we wouldn’t bother saying, seeing as how we’re in the business of measuring everything — ourselves, our civilization, Super Bowl legacies — in terms of years and therefore referring to years fairly often.

The funny thing is that we did, in fact, refer to the year in a quasi-Morrissey-style from 2001 to 2009. We had to ditch the system of splitting the four-digit year into two pairs of numbers because there’d be no way to, say, differentiate “twenty-one” as the year 2001 from the numeral 21. But I feel like more often than not, people would have said “two-thousand-eight” whereas if we were talking about 2,008 barking poodle puppies, we’d add extra syllable: “two-thousand-and-eight.” Right? And then 2010 came and reverted to the old system: “twenty-ten.”

I guess from this perspective, it seems like we English-speakers jointly decided to add a syllable for the years 1901 to 1909 but were fine with taking a familiar syllable out for 2001 to 2009.

Whatever. Here, listen to The Smiths.


  1. I love the Smiths... this was a particularly finicky entry..!

    1. I don't know if I'd call it finicky, exactly. Pedantic, maybe.