Running Out of Years

a radio commentary broadcast on Jefferson Public Radio's The Jefferson Daily
Tuesday, May 27, 1997
(c)1997 by Fred Flaxman

HOST: As the millennium draws to a close, commentator Fred Flaxman is concerned about its effects on the calendar.

FLAXMAN: With the end of the 20th Century, it seems we are running out of time itself. Or, at least, out of years. I don't mean that I'm one of those who expects 1999 to end with a big bang apocalyptic explosion, bringing an end to the universe as we know it. I mean simply that 1999 will be the last year for which we have a name which sounds anything like a year.

All my lifetime -- and, most likely, yours -- years have always begun with the number 19. Furthermore, for some seven hundred years the word "teen" has been a part of every year. A year just doesn't sound like a year unless it begins with 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 or 19. Preferably 19.

For example, if you just say the numbers nineteen forty, right away you think about a year, don't you? The same goes for 1968 or 1868. 1492 certainly sounds like a year, as does 1350.

But now try 2000? Does that sound like a year to you? To make it sound like a year, you have to say "the year 2000." Otherwise it sounds like dollars or calories or the number of mosquitoes at your last picnic.

As for "2001," that would be a good name for a science fiction movie about a space odyssey in the far future. It is not at all a name for a year which is just around the corner.

Something like 2020 sounds more like a good vision than a new year. If we're going to go around calling years things like 2007 or 2139, we might as well use the Hebrew calendar which is already up to 5000 something and is, at least, slightly more accurate as far as year-counting goes.

No, to be a real year, a year must start with something teen. And there are precious few of them left. Unless...

After 19-99 why don't we have 19-100, then 19-101, 19-102, etc.? Perhaps it's a little awkward. But then, instead of becoming 60 years old in the year 2000, I would become 59-1 in 19-100... and 59-2 in 19-101.

I don't know about you, but I think I could get used to anything more easily than becoming 60.

This is Fred Flaxman.

HOST: Commentator Fred Flaxman is the author of Doctors, Dentists, Dishwashers and Other Demons of Modern Life, a book in progress.