A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Monday, January 16, 2012

Happy twenty-twelve!

OK, now that we're in the year 2012, could we please call it by its right name?
Not "two-thousand-twelve," but "twenty-twelve."
I know we're in a brand-new millennium, so I've kept quiet for more than a decade while people persisted in saying, "two-thousand-one," "two-thousand-two," and so on.
But don't you think it's time we got over it? This nomenclature is getting more awkward with each passing year.
Just imagine what a pain it's going to be a hundred years from now. Do we really want our descendants struggling with "two-thousand-one-hundred-twelve" instead of "twenty-one-twelve?"
This problem never cropped up during the last millennium. When our ancestors talked about the year of the Declaration of Independence, they said, "seventeen-seventy-six," not "one-thousand-seven-hundred-seventy-six."
Pearl Harbor was attacked in "nineteen-forty-one," not "one-thousand-nine-hundred-forty-one." And JFK was killed in "nineteen-sixty-three," not "one-thousand-nine-hundred-sixty-three."
The rot started back in 1968 (note: "nineteen-sixty-eight," not "one-thousand-nine-hundred-sixty-eight"), when the classic sci-fi flick, "2001: A Space Odyssey," was released.
To the day he died, Arthur C. Clark, the guy who wrote the screenplay (and the novel on which it was based), kept insisting it should be pronounced "twenty-oh-one," not "two-thousand-one," but nobody listened to him. And a bad habit began.
By the time we got to 2000, we were already conditioned to say "two-thousand." It was short and convenient.
But the name has been getting more awkward with each passing year. Now I wince every night when I turn on "The Daily Show" and hear the announcer intone, "January twentieth, two-thousand-twelve."
I'm probably a lonely voice crying in vain, but mark my words: If we don't wise up soon, we're all going to end up with twisted tongues.
And as long as I'm playing language cop, here's a wag of the finger to Rick Perry, who said in a in a recent GOP presidential debate that Iran would invade Iraq "literally at the speed of light."
Sorry, Rick. According to Newton and Einstein, nothing travels "literally" at the speed of light except light itself. (Of course, he's skeptical about Darwin's theory, so maybe he doubts Newton and Einstein, too.)
The word Gov. Perry was searching for is "figuratively," which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as "not literally."
Another bugaboo of mine is "disinterested," which is incorrectly used to mean "uninterested" - i.e., apathetic.
This really sets my fillings on edge because "disinterested" is such a great word in it own right. It means "fair" or "impartial" - i.e., that you don’t have a personal or financial interest in the outcome.
In other words, a good judge should never be uninterested in the trial, but she should always be disinterested.
But my number one pet peeve is "issue," which people use as a synonym for "problem" - as in "I have an issue with that" or "He has some health issues."
No, no, no! An issue is a topic at the heart of a debate, not a difficulty.
A broken leg is a health problem. The president's medical insurance reform is a health issue. See the difference?
One of the beauties of the English language is that it's always changing to reflect current usage. So all these incorrect words probably will become standard English through sheer repetition, just as "like" has become a synonym for "as."
(Oh for the days when "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should" triggered angry letter writing campaigns! For that matter, oh for the days when people still wrote letters!)
But until that happens, please don't use "issue" when you mean to say "problem." I have an issue with that. :-)