The Year Zero

You know, the year that was before AD 1 and after 1 BC.

Well, there wasn’t one.

There is no Year Zero. Our modern calendar starts with Year One. Anno Domini means “in the Year of Our Lord” so it marks the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Whether Christ was actually born in that year is irrelevant. A 6th-century scholar named Dionysius Exigenus created the Anno Domini system and most of the modern world uses that marking point. Nowadays we call it the Common Era as opposed to the Christian Era, so we say CE 1 and 1 BCE (Before the Common Era), but the starting place is the same. The Romans would have called that year 754 AUC. That stands for ab urbe condita or “from the founding of the city.”

So if Year One was the first, and there was no Year Zero, when did the first decade end? Year Ten, of course. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. That’s ten years, that’s a decade.

So that means the second decade started in Year Eleven. And went for ten years: 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20. It ended in Year Twenty.

I’m sure you see where I’m going. The first decade was AD/CE 1-10 and the second was AD/CE 11-20. Then 21-30, 31-40, 41-50, etc. There’s a rule: decades start on years with a “one” at the end and they stop with years with a “zero” on the end. That means this current decade started on 01 January 2011 and will end on 31 December 2020.

But people don’t like that scheme. We are much happier to start our counting at zero and end it at nine. Year 2010 starts the twenty-tens or the twenty-teens or whatever it’s called and Year 2019 ends it. Hence all the “Best of the Decade” lists coming out.

I’m not sure why people like that kind of counting better. Maybe it’s the digits. From 2010 to 2019 you only change the ones place. With 2020 you have to change the tens place as well. Perhaps it is more intuitive to visualize a decade that way, flipping over one number at a time until you run out.

There’s nothing wrong with starting at zero when counting. It’s the same number of leaps, the same number of things, you are just using a different numeral to represent the stopping point.

So if people want to count decades from 0-9 instead of 1-10 that’s OK. The only confusion is for those folks from the first decade (CE/AD 1-10). They have to be a nine-year decade, a nonade or novemade or something. Since there is no Year Zero they go 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and call it good. In Year Nine they would publish their “Best of the Nonade” (the one-and-only nonade) lists. Then we could get on track and call Year Ten the start of the second decade (10-19) and it will all dovetail nicely with our 2019 end-of-the-decade stuff.

Whether you are a pedantic scholar and refuse to celebrate the End of the Decade until next year, or a party animal who loves those lists and can’t wait to ring in The New Decade, I hope you have a wonderful New Year in CE/AD 2020!

4 thoughts on “The Year Zero

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