I am absolutely positive that on January 1, 2000 I made a point of explaining to everyone how it was not the new millennium. The correct way to count the beginning of decades and millenniums is on year one, you see, so everyone was confused. The New York Times and The Farmer’s Almanac backed me up on this, and, while common knowledge was throwing ticker tape and blaring trumpets and partying like it was the end of 1999, common knowledge couldn’t hold a candle to fact and correctness. Only one problem.
I was wrong.
So was/is the Times and the Farmer’s Almanac and the US Naval Station and what will be the tsunami of nitpickers and fact porn purveyors who are about to begin that drumbeat again. I’ve already seen a few Facebook posts that begin with “Look, people…” It’s seductive, almost irresistible, but you can hold fast. Facts are more flexible than we might think.
This is absolutely the end of the 2010s, as I will literally explain below.
Anno Domini Was a Figment of Denis’ Imagination
Here’s the issue at hand. When the calendar was created–and it was created, it’s an artificial construct rather than being a natural phenomenon like atoms which had to be discovered–when the calendar was created, assumptions were made. As the many articles being written this week will tell you, the monk Dionysius Exiguus in 525 created a labeling system of years because people were using all different dates for their own purposes. (Dionysius stands for Little Denis, by the way, which is why a monk would be named after the Greek god of drunkenness and debauchery).
Calendars in the first century–which started when…well… I’m getting to that–calendars were flexible. Different groups based their religious commemorations based on the Jewish, Roman, Age of Martyrs, Zoroastrian calendars. Celebration dates were all over the place, the way that spelling in Shakespeare’s time hadnnt relly settuld on whare ’tis tooday.
This dude, Dionysius, wanted to help firm up the date of Easter, so he decided to use the “birth of our Lord” as the starting point, creating a labeling system based on the day that he believed Jesus was born. Set aside, for now, the fact that Jesus was not born on December 25th and perhaps not even in the year one.
Dionysius was replacing the Diocletian years that were used in a table applied to the Julian calendar, and he decided that his year was the 525th since JC was born. Presto changeo, that became Anno Domini 525. I’m skipping the part about the decennovenal cycle, Cyrillian tables, and the Council of Nicaea. Dionysius decided it was the year 525, period, end of story. He invented the fact.
No Year Zero… What’s That Now?
Here is the “truth” of the matter, as Wikipedia clarifies:
Because Dionysius did not place the Incarnation in an explicit year, competent scholars have deduced both AD 1 and 1 BC. The reason for his omission may be simply that the starting date was computationally convenient, or that he did not believe that the date of the Nativity could be pinpointed exactly. Ambiguities arise from the fact that eras may be either elapsed or current years, there are discrepancies in the lists of consuls, and there is disagreement as to whether the Incarnation should be reckoned from the Annunciation or the Nativity. Most scholars have selected 1 BC (historians do not use a year zero), arguing that because the anniversary of the Incarnation was 25 March, which was near Easter, a year that was 525 years “since the Incarnation” implied that 525 whole years were completed near that Easter.Wikipedia
So, before you start to “Look, people…” me, notice how much “ambiguity” there is in these facts. And, let’s just talk about that little aside in there… “historians do not use a year zero…” At the time of all this calendar arguing about when it all started, the Romans and Babylonians didn’t use zero in their numbering system. That came from the Arabs, who helped set up our zero to nine numbering system which we now use for everything. Hold that thought.
Along came the Venerable Bede, St. Bede, also called the father of English history. He wrote some of the first comprehensive works of English history and, in doing so, started trying to clarify some of the calendar confusion. He established the years Before Christ in order to be able to count the right years in his compendium Ecclestial History, but he didn’t include a zero year. There’s a BC 1 and and AD 1, but no zero inbetween.
We can evolve our understanding of how the world works can we not? Doctors used to believe that taking baths was dangerous and that the best cure for disease was to remove some of your blood. Perhaps the facts don’t change so much as our combined understanding of how the world works. There really is a zero.
Years Are Not Buildings
Several analogies are made about elevators and buildings, in the helpful explanations about how 2019 is not the end of the decade. The analogy is that if you go into a building with a lobby, then the floor one level up is the first floor.
If you were to go…ten flights up, you would actually end up on the ninth floor…but if you assume the lobby as the ‘first’ floor and went 10 flights up, you would end up on the tenth floor. In essence, on our calendars, 2021 is the equivalent of a “first-floor lobby,” and after going up ten flights (or years), we’ll arrive at the tenth floor.From timesnews.net/Community/2019
We all know how confusing it is when the lobby is the zeroth floor. Right there should tell you that any math system that has to rely on counting a zeroth floor must be flawed on the start. It’s nitpicky to decide that the tenth floor has to be the floor that ends in a zero, rather than the floor that ends in a nine.
Want to really get nitpicky? My real pet peeve is the word “comprise.” Nobody knows how to use the word. It’s a synonym of “embrace” and not a substitute for “compose.” This post comprises several facts about the calendar, but it not comprised of anecdotes about monks. Ninety percent of the time I see the word in print–including in textbooks about spelling and grammar–“comprise” is used incorrectly. But I can get over that.
People often don’t understand the difference between “literally” and “figuratively,” as in “I literally died laughing from that scene in the movie…” We don’t have to stop the amusing anecdote to explain the rules of grammar, do we? Let them finish the story. Words evolve in usage, just like the word “spam” now means something other than salty canned meat and “text” is a verb. So, too, our idea about how the years work needs to evolve.
The decade of the 2010s is conceptually going to end with the year 2019. Years are not buildings and whether the Venerable Bede or generic historians from the fifth century, who after all were still using leeches, counted a year zero or not is not worth holding on to. We don’t even use the Julian calendar anymore, as that was thrown out the window for the Gregorian calendar centuries later. Why would we need to stick to a decade that ends with the year zero instead of starting with zero?
I say we fight the nitpickers who will come and say that we are not at the end of the decade. Their arguments will comprise old notions of exactitude and literally not hold water.
Who’s with me?