A reader who is not a blogger, Rod Jean, asks me if I would raise this question for New Year's Eve. His suggestion:
The decade is now 70% over. We ought to be able to identify it's [sic] zeitgeist. If we try to name a decade at its beginning, we will usually miss the mark. See, e.g., the Fabulous Fifties and the Soaring Sixties. The problem is that psychological decades don't follow the calendar. The Twenties ended a couple of months early, on Black Friday. The Forties started on December 7, 1941. The Fifties did not really end until November 22, 1963. I am not sure, but I think the Sixties lasted until conclusion of direct U.S. troop involvement in Viet Nam, in early 1973. Tom Wolfe nailed the 70's as the Me Decade. Just about everybody agreed the 80's were the Greed Decade. I don't know whether the 90's got a moniker, although a great many of us look back on them as the Good Old Days. So, I ask you to throw out to your readers the question of naming this decade. You can start with my nomination. I believe The Fearful Decade began on September 11, 2001. The chief fear is of terrorism, which has led us to compromise civil liberties. However, we also fear global warming and other environmental catastrophes, including Avian Flu. We fear the growing economic power of China. We fear a shortage of fossil fuels, and we fear the use of nuclear energy to avoid excessive dependence on them. Conservatives fear gay marriage and euthanasia, so they end up with mean spirited discrimination and the crusade over Terri Shiavo. Liberals fear the reversal of Roe v. Wade, so they support the barbarism of partial birth abortion. Many liberals fear the imposition of a Christian theocracy, we get into silly debates over whether "under God" should be left in the Pledge of Allegiance.
As far as I'm concerned, this issue was resolved at the beginning of the decade. I wish I could remember where I saw a debate over what to call the bloody thing -- it wasn't this Slate piece by Timothy Noah. Just about exactly two years ago, he wrote, "Half the 21st century's first decade is gone and still no one knows what to call it."
The most logical candidate is a term often used to describe the first decade of the 20th century: the "aughts." But despite heavy promotion from journalists and others, it's never caught on. (It must have struck most folks as too archaic—note my compulsion to surround it with quotation marks—or perhaps too precious.) In 1996, Barbara Walraff of the Atlantic reported in her "Word Court" column that there was much talk of calling the coming decade the "double-ohs." That never caught on, either. Scott Pederson, a self-described "entrepreneur," somehow managed to get a trademark on "Naughty Aughties," which is even more creaky than the "aughts," and he's been promoting that term energetically ever since. "Become an official licensee of Naughty Aughties®," he invites visitors to his Web site, "and capitalize on this once in a century licensing opportunity." Strike three.
By not coming up with a name, society has created a serious rhetorical problem that spills over into the social sciences.
No, the piece I read much closer to the decade's start nailed it, I thought. Not sure if it was after September 11 or even before it; if it had been after, surely it would have caught on, because it says exactly what Rod is saying (the Fearful Decade) in a funnier, catchier way.
It's The Oh-Ohs. (Spelled '00s. Pronounced "Uh-ohs.")
If you have a better idea, let's hear it.
And while we're on the subject: