As the ’90s approached, New York Times language columnist William Safire polled his readers about how we should refer to a decade that was still a long way off: The 2000s. The “Zots,” one probably insane person suggested. Other, possibly sociopaths, went for the “Aughties” and the “Naughties” and the “Ohs.” Safire threw up his hands: “hold off until 2009,” he advised, “when we’re in prosperity or depression, before deciding what to call the whole decade.”
As it happens, Safire died in September 2009. During that time, any number of stupid ideas for the name of the decade came and went (one Washington Post writer suggested “the Love Years” in a column that time has cruelly failed to destroy), and while the New Yorker grudgingly accepted the “Aughts” in 2009, it noted the term is “rooted in a linguistic error.” Mostly, perhaps because the 2000s gave us 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and Chinese Democracy, we seem to have tacitly agreed to avoid talking about that decade altogether, which seems like a sound decision.
Then we began the decade that ends tonight. (If you are the sort of person who insists the 2020s actually begin next December 31, I hope you start this new year by accidentally locking your keys inside your house.) It was the teens. Or maybe the tens. Or as Rob Sheffield writes, who cares: This decade sucked so bad it doesn’t matter that we never really got around to naming it. “In a way,” Sheffield writes, “coming to an end is the most crucial job the Teens could possibly do.”
On Wednesday the ’20s will begin. This is significant! If you’re under 25, you probably don’t remember living in a decade that had a name, which I am here to tell you is great. Twelve years from today, for instance, you and your friends can say stuff like “That’s so ’20s” or “’20s style,” and people will actually know what you’re talking about. If you come of age in this decade, you’ll be a ’20s kid. We’ll talk about ’20s politics and ’20s food and all the things that hadn’t been invented on December 31, 2019, the day that two anonymous decades ended and how (if the Republic hasn’t broken up) finally there was something everyone in the United States could agree on: A name. It’s a start!