Did you know?

Click any word in a definition or example to find the entry for that word

noughties also Noughties

noun [plural]

the years from 2000 to 2009

the noughties or the Noughties

phrase

'Have the noughties been "gruelling and terrible"?
In his new year message, Dr Rowan Williams will decry the last decade as "gruelling and terrible". Do you agree with the archbishop's bleak assessment of the noughties, or is he ignoring some crucial advances?'

The Guardian 1st January 2010

As the decade of 'Ohs' (00-09) draws to a close, across the media there's been a surge of nostalgic analysis and evaluation. What were the key events of the decade? 9/11? The birth of social networking? Or perhaps the launch of the iPod? Opinions may vary, but one constant in this recent deluge of retrospectives is reference to this period of ten years as the noughties.

the search is on yet again – how should we refer to the next ten years? Amongst a flurry of speculation the 'favourites' seem to be the tens and the teens

The interesting thing about all this is that it's only relatively recently, certainly at the back end of the decade, that we finally decided to plump for the noughties as the recognised English term for this period of time. And just as we've got settled, the expression already refers to an 'obsolete' concept, as we now move into a new decade. So the search is on yet again – how should we refer to the next ten years? Amongst a flurry of speculation the 'favourites' seem to be the tens (a shortened form of the twenty-tens on the model of the earlier nineteen-tens) and the teens. The problem with the latter term is that it doesn't take into account the non-teenage years of 2010, 2011 and 2012. This has led to the suggestion that these intervening years be referred to as the tweens, reverting to teens in 2013, but that all seems a bit untidy to me. With no obvious 'neat' solution, the debate looks likely to continue. A recent naming competition in Australia rejected candidates such as Tennies, Twenteens and Decnos in favour of – wait for it – the One-der Years. If it's taken the best part of a decade for the term noughties to catch on, then I'm not optimistic about One-der Years!

Background – the noughties

The expression noughties is formed from a derivation of the word nought (meaning 'zero' or 'nothing'), on the model of established references to other decades such as eighties, thirties, fifties etc.

At the advent of the 21st century and the third millennium, there was a whole host of ideas as to how we should collectively refer to the years beginning with zero. One candidate thought to be a front runner was The Aughts, widely used between 1900 and 1909, though this failed to catch on. Among the other suggestions were the Ohs, the Oh-Ohs, the Zeros, the Two-thousands, the Ones, the Nulls and, interestingly, the Naughties. Though in the US the word naught is a common spelling variant for nought, its usage is archaic in British English, which may explain why Noughties was favoured over Naughties.

The ultimate success of the noughties relative to the other candidates may partly be attributable to its catchy phonetic overlap with naughty, originally though to be a disadvantage, but creating the potential for wordplay as in naughty noughties or noughtiness.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

Last week …

Read last week's BuzzWord. Tweetup.

This article was first published on 18th January 2010.

Open Dictionary

subtweet

to post a tweet, usually a negative one, that mentions a person without using the @ sign, so that they will not see the message on their Twitter feed …

add a word

Blog

A must for anyone with an interest in the changing face of language. The Macmillan Dictionary blog explores English as it is spoken around the world today.

global English and language change from our blog

Word of the Day

bottom line

the amount of money that a business makes or loses