Nineties, noughties, ?

This week’s Weekly Chart started with a lunch conversation between Anna, Elana, Ivan (who you know from last week’s Weekly Chart – thanks Ivan!) and me. “So we had the eighties and nineties”, I mumbled over some Ethiopian food. “But how do we call the decade between 2000 and 2010?”

“They’re called the noughties,” said Ivan. I was pleased with this new piece of information. It sounded strange enough. “And how do we call the current decade?” I asked.

None of us had a clue. “But we’ve been there before”, we concluded. We don’t live in the first century with a second decade. But did people between 1910 and 1920 have a name for their decade? Or is calling decades names like “twenties” a new phenomenon?

So what can we see on the chart? Naming decades seems to be indeed a relatively new phenomenon. There probably wasn’t a widespread name for the time between 1910 and 1920. Which means that this chart isn’t an answer to my original question.

But sometimes, while searching for an answer, we stumble over interesting bits of information that had little to do with our original question: How long it took for certain decades to be written about in books, in our case. It took the sixties 10 years, the seventies 8 years and the eighties just 3 years to reach their peaks in getting mentioned. One could say: Past decades become less interesting for the present, quicker. One could also say: We take less time to reflect on decades before writing about them.


In case you’re wondering: I got the data from the Google Books Ngram Viewer, which gives us data about how often people used certain terms when writing books. I searched for terms like “twenties”, “forties”, etc. in the English corpus, meaning in all English written books. Next week, we’ll have another look at Ngram-data – this time across different corpora (yes, this is the plural of “corpus”). See you then!

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