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The Century Did, Too, Begin In 2000!

Date/Time Permalink: 12/21/09 10:47:27 am
Category: Geek Culture

A comment on my last post about the decade of the 00s got a face-palm out of me. See, if the century didn't start until 2001, then neither did the decade, and so we have only nine years passed...

I can't believe I'm still arguing this stuff ten years later.

This is the difference between objective truth and subjective truth. It is also the difference between programmer brain and muggle brain. In objective truth, we cannot make an entire Earth's trip around the sun disappear. In programmer brain, the number zero is an actual number.

Now, granted, the Gregorian and Julian calendar do not use the year zero. Our Gregorian year goes "3 BC, 2 BC, 1 BC, 1 AD, 2 AD, 3 AD." But the year zero happened anyway, whether we count it or not! The failure of Pope Gregory XIII and Julius Caesar to count the zero years does not constitute an obligation on my part to go along humoring the years with a special counting system.

To be perfectly correct? There should have been two year zeros! Since we're counting negative back from, and positive forward from, the birth of Christ, there should be both a year 0 BC and a year 0 AD. Here is a timeline done in six-month increments so we don't miss the zeros:

  • January 1, year 1 BC - It is now 24 months until the birth of Christ. (year -2)
  • June 1, year 1 BC - It is now 18 months until the birth of Christ. (year -1.5)
  • January 1, year 0 BC - It is now 12 months until the birth of Christ. (year -1)
  • June 1, year 0 BC - It is now 6 months until the birth of Christ. Mary is entering her second trimester. (year -0.6)
  • Event mark (consider it January 1st, 0 AD) - Christ is born. (year 0)
  • June 1, year 0 AD - Christ is now 6 months old. (year 0.6)
  • January 1, year 1 AD - Christ is now 12 months old. (year 1)
  • June 1, year 1 AD - Christ is now 18 months old. (year 1.6)
  • January 1, year 2 AD - Christ is now 24 months old. (year 2)

So, a mistake was already made centuries ago (in 1582, to be exact), which the entire world adopted. No matter which position you argue for, you can't be right. Not without changing the year. Now, if everybody in the whole world (or at least the part which uses these calendars) agrees to start counting the years correctly, I'll link elbows and go along with you all. But for now, we're stuck with it.

Since we are now stuck with calling the year what it is (2009 as I write, when, counting the year zero, this would actually be 2008, and both year zeroes, this would be 2007), my way (and many other people's way as well) is to consider 1 BC as actually being year 0 BC/AD, so that the century ends on December 31st, 1999 and a new one begins on January 1st, 2000. It isn't my fault that we have two centuries back there which had 99 years each.

So this is how I (and most people) cope, by reckoning the beginning and ending of decades and centuries the normal way. That's why Time magazine is calling it a decade over at the end of this month, and also why I'm calling December 31st, 2009 the last day of the 00s decade.

Really, people who are pedantically insisting that decades, centuries, and millenniums end with a {1,10,100} are just sticking to an ancient error. The date doesn't count anything - it is just a label, the way we "count" floors in a building or chapters in a book. So we can arbitrarily group any ten years into a decade that we want to - the decade of the "00s" includes years 2000-2009, so there! People who insist on treating our current year as if it counted something are doing the equivalent of measuring a line with a micrometer when it's already been cut with an ax. Furthermore, the exact pinpoint date of events of Biblical times are actually lost in history, since modern math concepts didn't even exist then, so we're all arguing about a blob of jello anyway.

Stop it already!

Update 6/15/10: Since it's been brought up: Positive and negative zero in programming.

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