Happy twenty-twelve

Happy new year. What are you calling it? “Two thousand and twelve” or “twenty-twelve”? It was a topic of conversation among my friends on New Year’s Day. There is also an interesting article by Ben Zimmer.

I have long been in the “twenty-twelve” camp. I said “twenty-eleven” and “twenty-ten”. I often even said “twenty oh one” for 2001 and the rest of that decade. In that instance I had to cave in to convention — almost no-one else says that.

My logic has been that my chosen pronunciation follows the convention that was used in previous centuries. No-one would say “one thousand nine hundred and twelve” or even “nineteen hundred and twelve” for 1912. Nor do many people say “one thousand nine hundred and one” or “nineteen hundred and one” for 1901. In this case, “nineteen oh one” seems natural enough to most people. So why not “twenty oh one”?

Saying “twenty twelve” also saves on syllables, as the Ben Zimmer piece points out. Ben Zimmer seems optimistic that the “twenty twelve” format will catch on from now on. I do hope so as I don’t think I could stand an entire century of what is (in my view, at least) a more pretentious and wasteful pronunciation.

But why?

The question is, why would a clumsier, longer pronunciation catch on? How could it usurp the convention that has been used for previous centuries?

My inexpert theory is that people just got so excited about the fact that they were living in the year 2000 — otherwise known as The Futureā„¢. So once the year 2000 was over, people wanted to drag it on for as long as possible.

“This is the year two thousand! …and one.”

“The London Olympics will be held in two thousand! …and twelve.”

Personally, I think living in the year 2000 is so 2000, so I will be saying “twenty twelve”.

Update: Via @talesfrom on Twitter, I have learned that the Guardian style guide recommends the use of “twenty-twelve”.


  1. I have to admit that after the whole “2010” hubbub I was seriously tempted to get this t-shirt: http://www.bustedtees.com/itspronounced2010

    I’m solidly in the “twenty-ten|eleven|twelve” camp, although with single digits I used “two-thousand and X”. My personal feeling is that “twenty oh-X” just sounds clumsy. It’s aesthetically displeasing to me.

  2. I definitely agree that “twenty oh-x” sounds clumsy. But I also thought that “two thousand and x” sounded clumsy, and had an extra syllable. It was a tough decade…