U.S. Intellectual History Blog

The Name Game

As the various “Decades Best” lists begin to appear in the old media and around the blogosphere, it has occurred to me that, as we approach the final days of this decade*, we still don’t have a name for it. Last decade was the Nineties. The decade before was the Eighties. Next decade will, presumably, be the Teens. But what do we call the first decade of the twenty-first century? Various things were proposed (“The Aughties”), none, as far as I can tell, stuck. Right now we can still refer to it as “this decade.” And for ten years we can say “last decade.” But what then? This is, of course, a particular problem for us historians.

The first decade of the 20th century doesn’t even provide much of a model. I usually refer to that decade as “the nineteen hundreds” (which itself has a certain ambiguity because one can also refer to whole centuries that way….though I prefer not to as it makes the first decade of those centuries hard to name). But you can’t say “the twenty hundreds.” And “the two thousands” sounds awkward.

So this is an opportunity to show that we are truly the cutting-edge history blog that we think of ourselves as being. Let’s solve this problem for our profession and for future generations of educated citizens!

What should we call the first decade of the twenty-first century?

* Or at least what everyone will consider the final days of this decade….calendar pedants can file this post away and read it in a year.

6 Thoughts on this Post

  1. I’ve been calling them the “aughts” for quite a while now. But this is mostly because it makes me laugh: my mother had said “way back in ‘aught six” to refer to events long past for as long as I can remember, but only when we entered this decade did she realize that the phrase actually referred to anything specific. She just thought it was something that old people said, the linguistic equivalent of wearing an onion on your belt. (That was the style back in those days.)

  2. I would consider myself an aficionado for naming the current decade as I have spent countless hours since the end of the 80’s pondering the dilemma. Media outlets throughout the nation are scrambling for an answer.


    The only NUMERICAL & MNEMONICALLY correct phrases to name the century’s first decade are AUGHTIES, NAUGHTIES, NAUGHTS, AUGHTS or NAUGHTY AUGHTIES.

    A few suggestions use one or more specific events that occurred during the decade. They will probably never be used from a radio and broadcasting point of view because they do not encompass this whole decade and they aren’t pleasing to the ear. Radio stations introduce their programming along the lines of “Music from the 80s, 90s and Today”. Soon, they’ll be replacing it with “Music from the 90s (NineTIES), ______TIES and Today”. The best choices contain either AUGHTIES, NAUGHTIES, NAUGHTY AUGHTIES, NAUGHTS or AUGHTS. Using events usually requires one to use adages like “The Age of” or “Era” which is more descriptive of a time period, not necessarily an actual decade. There is a huge difference between what a decade is “remembered for” versus what a decade is “referred to as”. The suggestions reported on one talk show (Age of Confusion, , Era of Misplaced Anxiety, Decade of Disruptions, North goes South, etc) do NOT pass this simple litmus test. Any suggestion that would require you to be a history buff in the future, shouldn’t even be considered.

    The media needs to embrace the only viable choice from a NUMERICAL & MNEMONICAL point of view. The first decade of previous generations did not have this sense of urgency as mass marketing really didn’t exist. The mass marketing concept was introduced to the public with the advent of radio broadcasting of the mid 1920’s (Roaring Twenties) and heightened in the 1940’s with television accessibility.

    Entrepreneur, Scott Pedersen, of Ithaca, NY, has continually watched labels placed on each decade. The Roaring Twenties, Fabulous 50s, Sexy 60s, Super 70s and so forth. Record labels distribute music compilations, studios broadcast shows reflecting on memorable people and photographic images and clothing companies coordinate fashion lines for each decade.

    Why Naughty Aughties? We NEED an identifier. Not many people can pinpoint the actual years of Generation X and Generation Y, the Stone Age or the Industrial Revolution. Naughty Aughties and its offshoots leave no doubt to this identity as “naught” and “aught” both mean zero. Jazzing up “Naught” to “Naughty” and combining it with “Aughties”, inadvertently describes the tone of the first decade that includes the Years 2000-2009. Marketing sense tells us that the 00’s are not memorable enough nor are they appealing to the public. Naughty Aughties is simple, catchy, rhymes and intimates fun and mischievous behavior, as well as being sweet and sexy. Previous decades are easily identifiable and well marketed, but until now, there seemed to be no cohesion for the years 2000-2009. Naughty Aughties fills the void in a fun and “roll off your tongue” sort of way.

    Obviously, many “naughty” things have occurred in the entertainment, political, sporting and economic arenas from global, national and local perspectives that may depict our moral compass. Jackson’s Superbowl Half-time show, OJ Simpson, Britney Spears, Enron, Martha Stewart, Cheney and Clinton are just a few highlights. Can you come up with more? Sure, you can!

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