People are now starting quite loudly to talk about 2010 – it’s in your diary, it’s in the new academic year, and so on. But the question is, how are they pronouncing it, and how will they continue to pronounce it? I remember first having this thought in the year 1984 (during which I refused to write anything Orwell, on principle – what principle, you might say, and you would be right), because a film called 2010 came out then, one you may well have forgotten. It was the sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, although 2010 was directed by Peter Hyams, not Kubrick. It was actually quite a good film and nominated for various awards: it starred Roy Scheider, John Lithgow and Helen Mirren, and it was based on a sequel Arthur C. Clarke had written to 2001 – although the relationship between the films is fairly negligible, Kubrick having gone his own particular way with Clarke’s original material.
So, I wondered, when I originally reviewed it, were we destined to call it ‘Two Thousand And Ten’ or ‘Twenty-Ten’. Just look at that, and you can see that there is no doubt. If we can say three syllables with an internal rhyme, as against five syllables without one, we will go the easy way. As we switch decades, we will leave behind the ‘Two Thousand And’ forumlation for good, until a new millennium comes along. It would be interesting to know if, at the start of the seventeeth century, they said Sixteen-One, Sixteen-Oh-One, or Sixteen Thousand And One, but I don’t know of any poems from then which include dates (the usually way of determining ancient pronunciation is to see what the poets did. We have our uses. Or maybe, we have one use).
Incidentally, the ‘Edwardian era’, which we think of as slow and protracted, must have shot by, when you think that it was only 1901 (Nineteen-One? Nineteen-Oh-One? The Oh may be quite modern) to 1910. Or is it just the accelerating pace of age?
One of the first things I ever wrote, aged 11, in 1963, was a play. It was a dystopian epic, in which a cast of twenty, all of whom, like my parents and grandparents, drank mixtures of gin and vermouth, and carried a very specific weapon. There is a very long opening scene in which each person arrives, is asked what weapon they have, and is offered a drink. It is a text-book on how not to write a play. It has a very sonorous introduction (‘This play is based in the future, in 1969, and will, I hope, never happen’) which suggests that time moves slowly for a child. It is not age which is wasted on the young, I think, but time.