December 31, 2000

This, then, is the last ZedneWeb entry of the second millennium.

Yeah, I know, pretty much everyone thinks of A.D. 2000 as the start of a millennium rather than the end of one—even I do, most of the time. The change to 2000 from 1999 is simply more impressive than that to 2001 from 2000. All four digits change; it’s the odometer effect.

But a quick look at history shows that 2001 is the “true” start of the third millennium. Take, for instance, the beginning of the 20th century. It was pretty much agreed that it began with 1901. Those that celebrated 1900 as the beginning of the century were considered ignorant. Today, some consider those who celebrated 2000 as the beginning of a new century ignorant, but that’s hardly fair. After all, a millennium is merely a period of a thousand years. Therefore, every year marks the start of some millennium, as well as the end of a different millennium. While A.D. 2001 comes two thousand years after A.D. 1, A.D. 2000 comes two thousand years after 1 B.C. (unfortunately, both systems were developed before the introduction of the zero to Europe).

The problem is in the distinction between ordinal and cardinal numbers. People’s ages, for example, are given in cardinal numbers. You are born, and after you’ve lived one year you are one year old. Thus, when you turn 10, you are beginning your second decade of life. It even works out that your first birthday happens at the end of your first year (as people tend to be a bit tired at the beginning of the first year). Thus, your first birthday marks the completion of your first year. Nice and simple.

Years, unfortunately, are given cardinal numbers. A.D. 1 is the first year of the calender. In fact, in English it means “The first year of our Lord” (which is inaccurate, but that’s another story). The problem is that one year after the start of the calender, it’s A.D. 2, the second year. A.D. 10 is the tenth year, and A.D. 11 starts the second decade.

Extending that forward, we see that A.D. 2001 is the first year of the third millennium. Does it matter? Only as much as you want it to. Plenty of other people use different calenders which are nowhere near a change of millennium. And what’s so special about a year? What meaning is there, really, to the fact that the Earth has rotated around the Sun X number of times from an arbitrary starting point, where X happens to be a simple multiple of a power of ten? If we want to celebrate the changing of the digits, why not? It has no more intrinsic meaning than any other potential milestone. But the pedant in me says that when we use specific terms like “The Second Millennium”, we need to refer to what they actually mean.

This, then, is the last ZedneWeb entry of the second millennium. As I write this, there is about a foot and a half of snow on the ground that wasn’t there on Friday. I’ve just set the VCR to tape C-SPAN at three in the morning. Life is strange.