ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
This Sunday will celebrate the halfway point of a decade for which we've yet to find a proper name. From the Roaring '20s to the '90s, we've had the ordinals to tell us what decade we're in. But since 2000, it appears no effort has been made to find consensus. Tune into a mixed music station and you'll simply hear, `The best of the '80s, the '90s and today.' But what is today?
Timothy Noah writes the Chatterbox column in Slate magazine, and recently reflected on the problem. He's also editor of the essay collection "The Woman at the Washington Zoo: Writings on Politics, Family and Fate" by Marjorie Williams. He joins us in Studio 3A.
Welcome to the program, Timothy Noah.
Mr. TIMOTHY NOAH (Slate): Thank you for having me.
SEABROOK: Before we get into the implications of this, you know, namelessness here, what are the obvious candidates that didn't quite catch on?
Mr. NOAH: Well, there was a lot of heavy betting on the term `the aughts,' which is how people refer to the first decade of the 20th century. There were some wry folks who wanted to call it the Naughty Aughties, which is also a somewhat creaky way of referring to the first decade of the 20th century. Barbara Wallraff in The Atlantic promoted the term `the double-Os.' I've heard some people refer to `the zeroes.' None of those has caught on.
SEABROOK: Why don't they work?
Mr. NOAH: Well, I think that people can't resist the pomposity of talking about the new century, or even the new millennium. I think the novelty of a new century is such that people embrace that terminology even though it's wildly inappropriate. I mean, to say that we know the first thing about what defines a coming century is the height of hubris. We have no idea. It's hard enough to define what this decade is about. But clearly, we're repeating the pattern, I think, of the 20th century.
SEABROOK: Shouldn't we have some idea about this decade now that it's halfway over, though?
Mr. NOAH: Well, we didn't last time. I mean, last time, nobody really knew what to call '00s (pronounced aughts) at the time.
Mr. NOAH: The '00s was mainly a retrospective term, and I think that applies to the '10s (pronounced as teens), as well, from the 20th century. Even as late as the '20s, you had Noel Coward writing a song called "20th Century Blues." I think the '20s really were the first decade that people identified as such.
SEABROOK: Let me go through some of these e-mails real quick that we've gotten from our listeners about what we should call this decade. A listener named Daniel in Eugene, Oregon, says, `The '00s, or the Naughties,' as we heard before. `This decade should be called the Ones,' says David in Ann Arbor, Michigan. `That's what I learned in grade school math: ones, 10s, 20s, 30s, etc.'
We also have a Paul in Anchorage, Alaska, who says, `I propose the Zilches for this decade's name.' It has sort of an eastern European allure, doesn't it? Also from Jane--she says, `The Zips.' And what about the Lovies? This an idea from Frank Deford, who already proposed a solution to this question. Referencing tennis scoring, he proposed the Lovies.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. NOAH: Well, the Lovies is very nice, but I think it's pretty improbable. I don't know what people are calling this decade. You know, you would think that with all the lifestyle journalism that's around--certainly a lot more than we saw at the beginning of the 20th century--that the overwhelming demand would have created some sort of consensus, but we don't have one. We may have to wait again until, you know, 2020. I sometimes think that perhaps it's like a child; you have to wait till its 21st birthday before it can drink and then you can toast the decade.
SEABROOK: And, Timothy Noah, this is not all fun and games, is it? Why should we have a name? I mean, there are serious things at stake here, yes?
Mr. NOAH: Not very serious, to tell you the truth. But it is true that, you know, we want to be able to define our era contemporaneously, take a first rough draft of history. And defining our eras by decades I think is practical. It's a long enough time to feel significant, but at the same time, it's somewhat manageable. I think it's likely that people will look back on these '00s (pronounced as aughts), or whatever we're to call them, as the era of fighting terrorism.
Mr. NOAH: Although it's interesting, just to show that even our most sophisticated contemporary definitions of our eras can be flawed--there's a fascinating Op-Ed piece in today's Washington Post where the author points out that armed conflict around the world is on a sharp decline since the end of the Cold War, which is very counterintuitive.
SEABROOK: Hmm, interesting. Some last contenders: `the Osies(ph)' from Neal, and `the Aughts or the Digits' from Mark.
Mr. NOAH: I kind of like `the Zips' myself.
SEABROOK: Timothy Noah writes the Chatterbox column for Slate magazine.
Thank you so much for joining us.
Mr. NOAH: Thank you for having me.
SEABROOK: And this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Andrea Seabrook.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.