The Decade Definition


My friend Rick has a major pet peeve that’s only making him madder in this final week of 2009:  everyone’s continued misuse of the term decade, as in “the top _______ of the decade.”

As Rick correctly points out, the end of 2009 is not the end of this decade: next December 31 will officially end the decade.  This is because the very first decade included years 1 AD through 10 AD.  Year 11 was the second decade of the millennium, just as 2011 will be the first year of the second decade of this current millennium in which we find ourselves.

It could always be argued, of course, that a decade could be any set of ten consecutive years, so it’s entirely possible that toward the end of 2011, for example, we might talk about the biggest homeland security advances within the decade since September 11th.

But it doesn’t appear that most usages of decade are really using this kind of logic.

So for Rick’s sake, please get it right.  And have a happy final year of the current decade!


  1. There’s no sane reason to require decades to be referred all the way to year zero. The millenium, sure, because it is referencing year zero. But decades do not, they are commonly referred to as 0-9. (1990s, 1980s). They are NEVER referred to as 1981-1990, etc. So this is foolishness in my opinion.

    1. But the same logic that goes for decades could be argued for milleniums, too. People thought the year 2000 was the start of a new millenium just as they thought 2000 was the start of a new decade. So one really isn’t that different from the other.

  2. It really pisses me off when Rick gets pissed off about me being pissed off about him being…wait, I’ve lost track.

  3. However, when we talk about decades, we talk about the 80s, or the 90s…we don’t talk about ’91 to 2000, or 1921 to 1930. And, while Rick may be technically correct, it is important to remember that the numbering system we use for years is completely arbitrary, made up by a Pope several centuries ago. As well, there never really was a “year one,” except retroactively. At the time, it was called 3761, by the Hebrew calendar.

    1. What a year it was too, that 3760. I remember it like yesterday. Going from 3760 to 1 was a real brain twister. Makes setting the clocks back and forth due to Daylight Savings seem like no big deal at all, in comparison.

      As for Rick’s dilemma, I understand where he’s coming from, but while I’m all for getting things right, this is one area where it’s always seemed kind of superfluous to get huffy and puffy about accuracy. A decade ago, I was irritated to no end by the rocket scientists who went around proclaiming how December 31st of 1999 was not the right time to celebrate the end of the millennium; each time another person shared that bit of information, they delivered it with gusto unprecedented since the days people figured out the Earth isn’t flat.

      I hope these same people make sure to celebrate their child’s second birthday on the first anniversary of the kid’s birth, just to keep things accurate.

      1. They’d have no reason to, Mika: a legitimate definition of “birthday” is the anniversary of one’s birth. The first birthday, with that definition, can’t possibly happen until the child has been alive for the first full year.

        As for the millennium, I was in the middle on that one. I didn’t refer to it as celebrating the “end of the millennium” because I knew it wasn’t; still, when all four digits of a year turnover on January 1st, that seems to be a significant event.

    2. Call me a stickler, call me tedious, but the Decade of the “Aughts” started January 1, 2001, and will end December 31, 2010. “What?” you say; but the whole world recognizes the end of 2009 as the end of this Decade. Obviously, that’s true. Just look. Google “end of decade” and you will find about 30,400,000 hits, the first 10 of which (I didn’t look any further) discussing the every-so-fascinating subject of what happened, what went right, what went wrong, what it all meant, in the “Decade” that ended December 31, 2009.

      If you Google “end of decade definition,” you will find 268,000 hits the first ten of which at least acknowledge that there are two points of view about when a decade begins and ends. Patrick Phillips grabs the top spot and explains the simple math behind the concept that the first decade began in year 1 and ended at the end of year 10. Also on the first Google page for that search is, expressing the opinion of Mr. Lyford (couldn’t find a first name), who essentially says, “get over it!” – a decade is a period of ten years and there’s nothing sacrosanct about any particular starting or ending point ( . So, from his point of view, which seems to be the prevailing view, the “Aughts” are those years, beginning with year 2000, that end in a single digit, preceded by a 0.

      Okay. So why, you ask, do we want to be tedious about this. There’s one good reason (and only one, putting aside my need to be contentious). It’s education or the lack thereof. My hope is that those whom we and our children look up to for knowledge, information, and intelligence (putting aside the established educators of our society, who are conspicuously absent from this discussion) would at least stop and acknowledge that the first year of the first decade and, concurrently, of the first millennium was year number 1. If the decades that we wish to use as sentimental landmarks/watersheds, or even officially as units of statistical measurement, begin in the 0-ending-year and end at the end of the 9-ending-year, then we should be clear that this system of demarcation started at some definite point in history, the end of a so-called decade which consisted of only 9 years, not ten.

      I hope and plead only for some educational leadership. How about Harvard graduate, President Obama saying, “Oh, by the way kids, historically, the decade really began January 1, 2001, but because we’re sentimentally anxious for it to end and another, more hopeful period, to begin that we’re getting a head start on it.” Or, he could delegate that to Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, in order to avoid the blowback from the sentimentalists. If that simple thing, that simple gesture, a mere nod of the head towards intelligence, were to happen, I’d be happy and revert to castigating the use of split infinitives.

      1. Dave,

        First, thanks for letting me know about that search result. Very cool! Always nice to see the ol’ blog at the top of a Google search. I figure more people would probably just search for “decade definition” but I’m on the first page of results, just six or seven links down, so I’m not complaining there, either.

        As for this:

        …the Decade of the “Aughts” started January 1, 2001, and will end December 31, 2010.

        I can’t agree there because I think we’re mixing two different things: the current decade, I’ll agree, ends on December 31, 2010.

        But if you specifically describe it as the “decade of the ‘aughts,’” then this, to me, refers to the ten-year period in which the years ended in 200X. That would be 2000-2009.

        2010, though part of the current calendar decade, is not an aught, just as 2000 isn’t one of the 90s.”

        That’s the way I see it, at least.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.