At Large Milennarian dillema

At Large Milennarian dillema

Searching for investment opportunities, Matthew JC. Powell contemplates going into the calendar printing business . . .

As you would well know, there is a bit of a problem with computers not quite being able to handle the imminent transition to the next century. If at this stage you are unaware of this problem, I would advise that you quit your job, leave the city and start a hippy commune up in the rainforest somewhere, far away from any technology. Just for a few years, until the whole thing blows over.

Even those of you who are aware of the little date thingy that will surely bring doom and bankruptcy to us all may not be aware that that is not the only problem with the coming millennium. Allow me to run through a few of the others.

First, the word millennium is derived from two Latin words, mille, for "thousand", and ennius, for "years". A period of a thousand years, therefore, is called a "millennium". With a double l and a double n and an m on either end. The adjective, "millennial", likewise has two double letters. "Millenarian" is a completely different word, derived from the Latin millenarius, meaning "containing or pertaining to a thousand (of something)". Thus, it only has one n. It's usually used to refer to cults that believe that the transition to the next millennium will bring doom. The IT industry springs effortlessly to mind.

The next thing, logically, is of course that a millennium is a period of one thousand years, not the transition between numbered periods of one thousand years. So what is going to happen shortly is not "the millennium", but rather the beginning of a new millennium.

True visionary

Lest you accuse me of playing silly semantic games, I feel this needs clearing up because of an article I saw recently in which Intel chairman Andy Grove predicted that a certain class of products would be available "shortly after the new millennium".

As someone who has trouble planning what I intend to do at the weekend, I must admire Mr Grove's ability to foresee product launches some 1002 years from now.

The final thing I want to clear up is this ridiculous notion that the new millennium will start in 2001, rather than the much more sensible 2000. The ridiculous and fatuous argument put forward by those who advocate the later date is that "there was no year zero".

Who says? Hands up anyone who was around at the time. I thought not. Do you think that several thousand years ago, anyone argued over whether it was the year one or the year zero? Neither do I.

The fact that there was no year zero (and that this is 1998 and two years from now is 2000) is the fault of Dionysius Exiguus, a sixth century monk commissioned to devise a chronology for Pope John I. It was Dionysius who decided to divide time at the moment of Christ's birth, which he placed in the year 753AUC (ab urbe condita, since the founding of Rome).

Before christ?

As most people are aware, Dionysius got it wrong, in that he incorrectly calculated the length of King Herod's reign. Since Herod died in 750AUC, Christ must have been born in 4BC - an absurdity of the highest order. But since this error was discovered after Dionysius' chronology was in wide use, it was too late to change.

Later, it was decided that it would be better for the year to start a week or so later, with the anniversary of Christ's circum-cision rather than his birth. Rather than go back and adjust dates accordingly, Christ's birthday was pushed back to the 25th of December - one of the great bureaucratic strokes of history.

Even with that decided, it has not been smooth sailing. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII threw a couple of extra months into the middle of the year to honour the Roman Emperors Julius and Augustus. In the process of doing so, he tossed out 10 days in October. Britain didn't adopt that system until 1752, when it had to skip 11 days in September to get in line. It was also Gregory who decided that we have to add a day every four years, but take it back again every hundred, then put it in again every four hundred. Confused yet? Thank the deities they didn't have Cobol in 1752.

What I'm getting at with all of this historical detail is that the way we count our years is not carved in stone - it's barely written on paper. Why can there not have been a year zero? Let's add one in and just adjust the dates of everything that happened BC.

Why does the century have to end in a couple of years? Let's switch to the hexadecimal system and call the year after next 199A - surely an easier fix, and it would buy a few years to really solve the problem.

Let's start lobbying the Pope now.

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