This article from the San Francisco Chronicle made my head spin. It’s about an accordionist, Tom Torriglia, who thinks that saying the current year, 2010, as “two thousand (and) ten” is bad grammar, and insists that everyone ought to say “twenty ten” instead. The story, amazingly, ran on the front page. And there are four things I want to say about it.

1) When Torriglia claims that no one would say “I was born in one thousand nine hundred and fifty-three,” he may be right. But people would write it, as for instance in the New Jersey State Constitution:

“[...] ten seats shall be filled by election in the year one thousand nine hundred and fifty-three [...]“

2) Furthermore, sometimes people say “nineteen hundred (and) fifty-three”. That’s more similar to “two thousand (and) ten” than “one thousand nine hundred and fifty-three” is, phonologically speaking, so it’s the more relevant comparison. Here’re snippets from an (oral) interview* of Dr. Walter Cooper at the Rochester Black Freedom Struggle Online Project:

“My parents came north in nineteen hundred and twenty-one. [...] And I had interviewed in May nineteen hundred forty-six, so the—I met with the director of admissions, I remember his name, I won’t call it now. [...] We married in January of nineteen hundred and fifty-three, and well, being married, I then confronted the housing segregation in Rochester.”

3) Torriglia is so convinced that two thousand ten is bad grammar and illogical (he claims to cringe at it) that he even insists that two thousand nine is bad grammar and that it ought to have been twenty aught nine.

4) Torriglia is 56. He is no longer young enough to be this foolish. Neither, for that matter, is the 145-year-old Chronicle.

The truth is that it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing wrong with either pronunciation. Twenty ten will probably be the more common one since it’s shorter, but two thousand ten won’t disappear. Nor should it, Tom Torriglia’s opinion notwithstanding.

[Update, 01/04/10: One additional thought here. How did Torriglia pronounce the year 2000, if "two thousand" wasn't acceptable? "Twenty aught aught"? If so, he's completely absurd.]

*: The silver lining to having read the Chronicle article is that it led me to this interview. If you’ve got some time on your hands, I recommend reading it; it starts off with a fascinating first-hand look at the way that even northern companies and colleges exhibited fairly open racism against even highly intelligent blacks in the forties and fifties, and it pushes further on from there.

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