Why oh Why2K?

or, Ponderings on the New Millennium

“I would like to take you seriously, but to do so would affront your intelligence.” –William F. Buckley, conservative newspaper columnist.

It all started as a bit of musing in my author’s note in the first issue of the year 2000. Then, the more comments from readers I published, the more they streamed in. Let’s recap. In the issue published 7 January 2000, I pondered:

Have you gotten used to writing “2000” yet? I wrote a check yesterday, and only then realized that the check’s date area was not Y2Kompliant — the blank says “_______ 19__”. Sheesh: I got those checks less than a year ago, and the bozos didn’t know that format wouldn’t work for very long?! As I go through my web site and update pages, it looks VERY weird to me to see the “Copyright 2000” at the bottom.

I haven’t seen too dang many Y2K bugs, but the ones I have seen are fairly comical. Some people, and computers, really have a hard time believing the 1900s are over! My FTP program shows this year as “19100”, I’ve seen web sites that claim the year is “192000”, and the computer in a video store in New York claimed a rented tape was 100 years overdue and calculated a late charge of $91,250. (And speaking of comical, a letter from a reader of my other online publication — http://www.HeroicStories.org — in response to me saying the 1900s were over, told me that “I’m sure you are going to get a zillion posts on this, but this is NOT the end of the 1900s! We’ve got the rest of this year to go through before we really get to the 2000s.” Um, yeah, right. I wonder what SHE’s writing on HER checks? (And yes, don’t write and tell me she’s half right: *I* know the third *millennium* — and the 21st century — don’t start until next January. But the 1900s are decidedly over!)

Well. I obviously knew that some people consider what date the new millennium starts a controversial subject. I think it’s pretty obvious and clear — I had no idea that there was more than one person in the world who didn’t think “the 1900s” are over! But a couple of people took exception to the concept, and wrote to argue. I ran their letters in the next issue.

Please! The 1900s are not over. Why? Do this: count to ten on your fingers. See? 10 is part of the group. Don’t feel bad, even rocket scientists do math wrong sometimes. –Terry in Georgia

Uh huh. One’s a fluke. Two is a trend:

This isn’t funny — you are mistaken in defending this year (2000) as post-1900s. I agree with your reader. I am actively turning off, deleting, unsubscribing, and screaming at any media that foists this falsehood on the public. [But] because you did admit this is not the new millennium, I am giving you a second chance. However, if you ever, ever again say this is not the 1900s, you can kiss my subscription goodbye and expect your advertisers to receive letters from me requesting they drop you from their media purchases. –Michael in Washington

In a private e-mail message in reply to Michael’s message (to immediately contradict him to show I would not be cowed by his threat), I told him that the year 2000 does not include the numerals “19” in it so it cannot, by definition, be part of the 1900s. I further told him he is “a world class idiot”, and that I will never submit to blackmail, and believe my advertisers won’t participate in it either “(but will rather ALSO laugh at you)”.

His reply was

You LISTEN CAREFULLY. I’m so mad about your very first statement, I haven’t (and won’t) read the rest.

Why is this so hard to grasp?

I published this all in True on 14 January, concluding, after his reply, that “I feel pretty confident about the ‘idiot’ part.”

I then published a couple of letters from people who did “get it” — that the issue was not about what year begins the new millennium, but rather when “the 1900s” ended — not at all the same thing (remember, I was writing about the “19__” date blank on my checks!)

The last letter:

“People are so confused these days, because they don’t have any idea what they are saying. It shouldn’t take much work to convince someone that the 1900s are over when the date no longer starts with 19. Personally, I have decided on a compromise approach to the whole millennium issue. Let’s just ignore the first millennium (some research suggests that Jesus was born in 4 BC, so we are definitely into the third millennium if that is right), and say that the second millennium began in 1000, and the newest one in 2000. It’s a fiscal millennium, if you will. —Bruce in Ohio

Since True is, after all, an entertaining (I hope!) publication, I declared the “Fiscal Millennium” an excellent concept (and one that my governmental readers can really get into), and agreed that the “Fiscal NM (New Millennium)” began on 1/1/2000.

A lot of people didn’t take much time to read it all, and the letters really started coming in. Lots and lots and lots of them. Hundreds. I of course will not include them all here, but if you do read all of this page, you should come out of this understanding why the year 2000 is not the first year of the third millennium, but rather the last year of the second millennium (and, similarly, it is not the first year of the 21st century).

Even if you do understand that, though, I trust you’ll find the rest of this entertaining — which is, after all, the first goal of This is True. But: I consider this the last word on the subject, so please don’t write to argue either side — I don’t intend to add to this page.

The Bottom Line — Comfortably Near the Top of the Page

By definition, the year 2000 is not the start of “the third millennium”, nor is it the start of “the 21st century”. Says who? Says the calendar we use, which is called the Gregorian calendar, after the man who commissioned it in the year 1582, Pope Gregory. It’s based on the birth of Christ, first calculated — incorrectly — by Dionysius Exiguus in the sixth century. (That’s the sixth century of the Gregorian calendar, of course! There are certainly other calendars, but most modern people keep track by using the Gregorian calendar. It’s very probably the one you use.)

A “millennium” is any arbitrary stretch of 1000 years; the “third millennium” is the arbitrary stretch of 1000 years that started when the second millennium was over, which started when the first millennium was over. So why isn’t “1999” the last year of the second millennium? Because humans like to count starting with “1”. When you start with “1”, to get a full thousand years you must get to the end of “1000” — and that’s exactly how the Gregorian calendar works. It was designed to start with year 1. We, here in the 2000s, might think it’s more logical to start with a year “0”, but that’s not the way the calendar was designed.

Why? Because when Dionysius did his work, there was no such thing as a zero. That seems nonsensical today — of course there was always a zero, right? Nope: it wasn’t invented until about the fifth century (controversial: many say it was first mentioned in a Syria text in AD 662, others say the Mayans invented it). Before then, it was thought ridiculous to need something which stood for nothing. We now know how useful zero is.

Since there was not a year “0”, and the first year of the Gregorian calendar was year 1, to get 1000 years — a full millennium according to the calendar which we still use today — one must get to the end of the year 1000. That leaves the second millennium starting with the beginning of year 1001, and the third millennium starting with the year 2001. Thus, the year this was written — 2000 — is not part of the third millennium, and not part of the 21st century. Those start next year, in 2001.

But what about “the 1900s”? Remember (above) that a “millennium” is defined as an “arbitrary stretch of 1000 years.” The stretch from 1951 through 2950 is 1000 years, and “a” millennium. Obviously, it’s not “the” millennium according to the Gregorian calendar — it’s just an arbitrary stretch of 1000 years that I pulled out of my hat. Just like humans like to start counting with “1”, even though it makes more mathematical sense to start with “0”, we humans like to group things in ways that aren’t particularly mathematical. So we end up with “the 1900s”, for instance — the arbitrary century of years starting with “19”.

The concept of “the 1900s” is a different thing from the concept of “the 20th century” — the 1900s stretch from 1900 through 1999, while the 20th century (as discussed above) stretches from 1901 through 2000. Therefore, of course (and obviously, once you understand the definition), “the 1900s” do not include the year 2000, even though “the 20th century” does. If you still don’t get it, think of it this way: when you turned 20, were you still in your “teens”? Of course not, since 20 is not part of the definition of “the teens”, just as 2000 is not part of the definition of “the 1900s”. Again, “the century” and “the millennium” are different concepts and, again, this discussion started with me mentioning my checks bearing the pre-printed “19__” for the year.

As an aside, the Gregorian calendar was meant to count the years after the birth of Jesus Christ. Meant to — it doesn’t. In addition to not starting with “0”, other errors were made. Christ was not born in Gregorian year “0” (since that didn’t exist), and it turns out he was not born in year 1 — since he was already running around by that time. Most now think Christ was born in around 6 BC, but certainly by 4 BC. Thus, the religious argument that “it has been 2000 years since the birth of Christ, therefore it’s the millennium already” doesn’t wash either, since it doesn’t even measure that milestone correctly.

The Confused, the Proud

Despite my saying quite clearly in True that “I know the third *millennium* — and the 21st century — don’t start until next January” and “in addition to it not being the 21st century (nor third millennium) yet…”, I got quite a few letters either congratulating me for having the courage (?) to say the third millennium had already started or, conversely, arguing with me, saying that of course it has not. It really would help if people read what I said before writing in (hence my plea above), but I don’t actually expect that to happen in my lifetime.

A lot of online publishers run like pack wolves, and we enjoy sharing the real gems of e-mails with each other. Vince Sabio of HumourNet, seeing the slew of ranting I got, wrote me to say, “My readers are smarter than your readers. I accidentally refer to 2000 as the new millennium, and have to apologize in the next Collage. You go to the trouble of not only explaining why 2000 is not the new millennium, but also why it isn’t the 1900s, and they still can’t figure it out.”

I don’t think you have smarter readers, Vinnie. I actually think I do. After all, it’s HumourNet readers who continuously fall for your “Unsubscribe Fee” gag, even though you ridicule the clueless about it in HumourNet at least once a year, and on your web site!

In any case, confusion reigned among many readers:

“Even if Michael is completely wrong as he might be, that doesn’t give you right to offend him and call him idiot. Do what you want in private e-mails, but on publically distributed mail list you simply can’t call people idiots. Who are you? Proffesional schrink? Obviosly, your parents forgot to teach you manners. Goodbye asshole. You’re professional asshole. Up yours, scambag! —Ashley in Yugoslavia

Ashley, you seem rather confused, and not just about “manners” or how to spell. Except the letters and ads, This is True is all my writing, my opinion runs throughout, and I make fun of people every week. That’s why people like it. Isn’t that why you subscribed?

Randy, you are too stupid to even put the question right. We are referring to the century, not the hundreds (as in 1900’s) [You may have been; I wasn’t, and most people understood that clearly. -rc]. Have a nice day, and I hope your stupidity does not preclude you staying alive to see the START of the twenty-first century, NEXT January 1st. —Andrew in Georgia (bold from the original)

You know Terry in Georgia, don’t you, Andrew?

I find it hard to believe that you and some subscribers can’t find anything that MATTERS to argue about. Who really gives a shit if it’s the 1900’s or thhe 2000’s? Better question: Why does anyone care? You got so mad over that crap. Now go ahead and unsubscribe me if what I say makes you mad, but when you’re done unsubscribing me, think about what I said. —Travis in California

I wasn’t mad before, and I’m not mad now. Why the heck should anyone be mad? My business is indeed publishing. I published some stuff that made people think and/or laugh. What’s the problem with that? Cool down, Travis. Life is too short to get upset at your entertainment.

I was going to write last week, but didn’t have time as I’m in the middle of a phd [I believe he means Ph.D, or doctorate in philosophy, rather than Post Hole Digger -rc], but now I can. I am comtinuously amazed at just how illogical all of us are. If you do decide to say ‘I’m illogical, so what?’ don’t dispare. If we acted totally logically we would have time to do virtually nothing in our day, as we would spend all of it trying to think of the most ideal way to get out of bed! —Andrew in Australia


My religion being pagan, I do not agree that this year is the ‘New Millennium’, third or otherwise. Why is the count started at the birth of the person know as Jesus? Either before his birth, during his life or after his death did we not have years to count? what happened to all those years. It seems to me that we are well into at least the 10th Millennium. –Anonymous

As you now have hopefully learned, the calendar is completely arbitrary. Years that are not included in the Gregorian calendar Common Era didn’t cease to exist. And why stop at 10 millennia? The planet, and humanity, have certainly been around much longer than that!

Language-wise, the year 2000 is not part of the 1900’s, because of the very reason you stated…it doesn’t start with a 19. However, mathematically, we are still in the 1900’s, for the very reason that Terry in Georgia stated. The way we count, from 1 to 10, clearly indicates that this is part of the 1900 sequence, being a ’10’ year. The proof of this contradicts your statement to Michael (AKA Flame Boy). You stated the 1900s started with a ‘year zero’ (1900) and ended 100 years later with a year ’99’. Again, the 1900’s did not start with a year zero…they start at year 1901. If you trace this back down the centuries, you’ll see that the year 1 B.C. was planted up against the year 1 A.D….no year 0. If there had been a year 0, then numerically, the 1900’s would end at year 99. But since we count from 1 to 10, not 0 to 9, we are still part of the 1900’s. Not in language, but in math. I really hope this made sense, and I don’t want to come off preachy. —Amie in Washington

I’m not sure how you’re coming off Amie, but I guarantee it’s not preachy.

This is still the 1900’s. However, I’ve been wondering about something ever since it became an issue. When did the population at large switch from using BC to AD? Was this done in real time or, as we see many things happen today, after the fact? I wonder if the common man, circa 10 BC through 10 AD really had much use for dates and dating? Maybe my ignorance is showing, but I suspect that the dating system that started with the year 1 was determined and put into place after it was passed in real time. —Sandy (no location given)

Hm. Maybe that Sabio guy was right after all.

Much More Clear on the Concept

The awkward disagreements about the turn of the millennium are over at last! My new word, ‘Approxillennium’, is now available for immediate use by all mankind. —John (no location given)

When the time comes of the real end of century and millenium, very few will be willing to consider the date with the importance it deserves. Y2K should have been a jubilee, a year long festivity for being still alive, able, despite so many errors & so little ‘global’ wisdom; but instead it is done and over, according to big marketing. (Excuse my English, for I’m one of your readers with Spanish my native language.) –Eugenio in Mexico

Your English is one heck of a lot better than my Spanish, Eugenio — no problem!

It’s nice to see that someone else is involved with the Partnership for an Idiot-Free America!! Michael should recieve an award for dumb ass of the 1900s and the 2000s, since he can’t tell where one ends and the next begins! —Anonymous

I don’t have any confusion about which millenium we are in, but do have confusion over what it is going to be called. The ‘Twenty Hundreds’ or the ‘Two Thousands?’ Personally I prefer the ‘Uh-Oh’s’. —Elizabeth in Montana

Actually, I’m leaning toward one I haven’t heard from anyone else, but I’d be surprised if no one else has thought of it so I’m not going to claim credit: The Zeds!)

Web Sites with More Information

If you don’t believe me, how about reading what scientists who deal with measuring time have to say about this issue? The U.S. Naval Observatory and the U.K.’s Royal Observatory should be egg-headed enough for anyone. There’s a lot of material available, so obviously I have not read it all — I present these sites for the curious who want more education on the subject. All the links worked as of the “update” date at the bottom of this page. Of course, many of the sites have links to other sites with even more info. All links listed on this page will pop up in a new browser window.

  • Calendars Through the Ages, a very complete site about the history of calendars.
  • “Blame the madness on Dennis the Short”, an interesting discussion with lots of links to other sites with info.
  • Wired magazine weighed in with “The Argument of the Century” (ain’t it, though?!), but amazingly, that link is now broken.
    C’mon, Wired!
  • Even Bill Clinton agrees with the logic of this page, according to the White House Millennium Council‘s “When is the Millennium?” page. [Note: Page — and thus link — removed when Clinton left office.]

The End

Kenneth in Pennsylvania sent the first clip, and Daniel in New York sent the second, which make it clear this is no new issue:

We have uniformly rejected all letters and declined all discussion upon the question of when the present century ends, as it is one of the most absurd that can engage the public attention, and we are astonished to find it has been the subject of so much dispute, since it appears plain. The present century will not terminate till January 1, 1801, unless it can be made out that 99 are 100… It is a silly, childish discussion, and only exposes the want of brains of those who maintain a contrary opinion to that we have stated. The London Times, 26 December 1799

The Post is open to conviction. We are not bigoted or intolerant. If anyone will show us how a century can be completed with less than 100 years, and how nineteen centuries can be completed with less than 1900 years, and how the twentieth century can begin before the nineteenth century ends, we shall joyfully put ashes in our hair and hail him as a wizard. Washington Post, 28 December 1899

16 Comments on “Why oh Why2K?

  1. t seems that sad lonely people with faceless empty threats run rampant in virtual reality these days. Tiny little people sitting alone at home writing viruses and trying to flex techno muscle. Anyone who tries to control a public voice is a Nazi. [Uh oh! Godwin’s Law finally rears its head in True! -rc] So sit at home and hail your mathematical Furer Michael of Washington, railing against the rest of us have an open mind.

    Math is the way we conceive the universe but we would have no concept without progressive thought and personal ideas. Michael acts as if Math was his mother and he was defending her name on the school yard. So in response to Michael’s threat to you, I am forwarding ‘This is True’ to all of my friends with a recommendation (something I should have done already but never got to). I am also recommending the advertisers of ‘This is True’ to my friends and colleagues.

    Good luck with the goons and nutcases. Sounds like you have as many ignoramus readers as any other publication. They make life frustrating but kind of fun.

  2. What I can’t believe is that millennial-counting hasn’t yet produced a Travis Bickle Moment (from Taxi Driver, where Travis just gets progressively more and more intense until he crosses the line), when someone like ‘Michael’ blows people away at a Safeway, solely because, what, the world will not listen to him about how to refer to a year? I’m stunned that we haven’t seen that yet.

  3. Maybe we shouldn’t be too hard on Michael. He’s probably just really grumpy from trying to get rid of 8,000 batteries and a ton of ramen on eBay.

    LOL! -rc

  4. The other day I heard someone say ‘I know, technically it’s not the new millennium…’. To my ears it sounded like ‘I know, technically 9 is not 10.’ Ackkk!

  5. Maybe it’s a conspiracy. If we shave a year off the end of every millennium, why, in a million years we’ll have an extra millennium stashed away somewhere. Probably near Roswell, New Mexico.

    As the issue with Michael’s letter was circulating on 14 January, I was, at that moment, in New Mexico, where I was attending a funeral — right outside Roswell. Really. You’ve got the power, Phil!! -rc

  6. I really don’t know why some people care so much (like that guy Michael). Sounds like he went insane with rage, as if he was personally insulted!

    That’s how wars start, William! Sad, ain’t it? -rc

  7. If you run out of Y2000-related stuff to write about, write about how millennium is written. (milenium?, millenium?, millennium?, milennium?)

    Look at this page, Oliver. Do you really think I need another controversy to help fill space? 😉 -rc

  8. It is astounding that you get such vituperative comments about the ‘end of the 1900’s.’ PERCEPTION is all, and it’s clear that the big year odometer has rolled over. Far Side cartoonist Gary Larson once observed that when he depicted a male mosquito biting someone, he’d get several letters protesting that only the female bites. He noted that NO ONE ever questioned that the insects were standing upright and wearing clothes!

    And talking to each other. In English. -rc

  9. I have a couple questions. First, is this guy for real? There are actually people this stupid still living in our world today? I think our friend brings up a real good case for sterilization of the stupid :). Second, would it be possible for you to go visit him for a week, just follow him around? I think you’d probably get enough material for the newsletter for the next year or so.

    Alex, “truth is stranger than fiction”, but one can only go so far! -rc

  10. Personally I don’t really care — I’ll be celebrating the turn of the century at he right time, but if everyone else wants to celebrate a year early, more power to them. It’s just a totally arbitrary date. I expect that come October or November, the marketing bandwagon will realise there’s another opportunity to make money and will start trumpeting the ‘REAL turn of the millennium’. Bah.

    You got that right! -rc

  11. I have to say that your treatment of Michael and his insistence that 2000 is part of the 1900’s is just, well, I found it as funny if not more so than the stories you publish. I guess that every so often, people deserve a little slap, right? Keep up the good work.

  12. Here it is October 13, 2009, with a new, mini-version of the debate looming in 2010. I have a friend here in Thailand who *still* will argue with great passion against your stand, and it occurs to me to send the link to this page to him.
    Except I’m not THAT evil! 😉

  13. Over the years since the mid 1990s I’ve been involved in many a discussion on this subject due to it’s effect on the IT industry in which I worked at the time. Many of us pointed out that the Y2K bug that worried people was all hype and that went on to discussion of the end of the century and the millennium. I eventually found a way to make my point that was very succinct, it went this way.

    All through the century just finished it was universally known as the Twentieth Century, and no one argued that as they all agreed. That being the case, the century can only end on the last day, that is the 31st of December, of the year that has 20 at the front of it, thus 31 December 2000 is the last day of the twentieth century. It was amazing how many would argue all the other ways of putting this but found this presentation acceptable and finally agreed.

    Back to your comment the 1900s was a way of presenting the years starting with 19, but the century just ended in the discussion was not the 19th. Many people confuse the year and the century issue, so do be too upset with them – heck, there’s a good reason why screw top lids with obvious indentations in the sides come with the note on them “Turn the lid to open.”

  14. Reading the ‘End of the World’ blog and noted references to Y2K. There’s a reason why the date passed with barely a ripple! Three years of very hard work by myself and a lot more like me in the IT industry; days, nights and weekends. Reading code, modifying and testing… testing….

    At Telstra (Australia) we had one system which was down for several hours on THE DAY due to the Y2K problem, but the clients never even knew. Processing problems are routine, you fix them and continue on. The only other problem was a failed truck battery which had to be replaced! I get thoroughly browned off by people saying or implying it was all a big con job. Not in my neck of the woods, it wasn’t.

    I know it wasn’t a con job, but there were plenty of cons out there taking advantage of the situation, and hysterical doomsday wackjobs vying for media attention. -rc

  15. I’m late reading this, obviously. I do recall a HUGE NYE party hosted by a friend on December 31, 1999. We all wanted to celebrate with style and wit. We all knew it wasn’t the end of the millennium, but still thought changing over to ‘2000’ instead of 19 something year was a big deal. It was a great party.


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