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Holy faux fin de siecle, Batman!

rue or false: The year 2000 is the millennium. Most of my readers, I trust, know that the answer is "false." Now then . . . It's 2001, right?

Wrong. No year is "the millennium"! A millennium is a 1,000-year period. So 2001 is the start of a new millennium; it's the start of the third millennium A.D. in the Gregorian calendar; heck, it's even "A Space Odyssey" -- but it's not "the millennium." To shout "The millennium is coming!" because a new millennium is allegedly coming is as ridiculous as shouting "The year is coming!" each Dec. 31.

In case you're already lost, the reason the next millennium doesn't begin in 2000 is simple: There was no year zero. So to count to the 1,000 years necessary to complete a millennium, you start at 1 and end at 1,000. The second millennium, therefore, began with 1001, the same way the first one began with 1. For the same reason, the 21st century doesn't begin until 2001.

Now, I don't mean to pooh-pooh the significance of the coming of the year 2000. The psychological jolt of the end of the automatic "19-" is much more of a hurdle than the advent of the next millennium and the next century.

Speaking of which, there are two kinds of centuries. It isn't often that we split hairs so much when thinking about them, but there's century as in the 18th, the 19th and the 20th, and then there's century as in the 1700s, the 1800s and the 1900s. The year 1900 was part of the 1900s, but it wasn't part of the 20th century. So if you want an "official" reason to hail 2000, call it simply the start of the 2000s!

Decades aren't typically given ordinal numbers, and so the 1900s logic reigns. 1910 wasn't really part of the second decade of the 20th century, but anyone who was counting at that point no doubt stopped pretty quickly and succumbed to the simple fact that 1910 began the 1910s. By all means, 2000 is the start of the decade of the 2000s -- I don't have an answer on how to distinguish that from the century of the 2000s; it's a slippery concept that was probably just as slippery in the decades of the 1700s and the 1800s.

Oh, and if you haven't already noticed, there are two n's in millennium (and millennia and millennial). There's only one, though, in the Mazda Millenia, a car for stupid people.

And it's the year 2000, if for some reason 2000 alone would be confusing. It's not "the Year 2000," even if you're referring to the computer glitch.

Now what?


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