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SYFY WIRE John Cusack

Did 2012 Help Change the Way We Pronounce Years?

It's Twenty-Twelve, not Two-Thousand-Twelve

By James Grebey
Los Angeles is destroyed in 2012 (2009).

The epic disaster movie 2012 (streaming now on Peacock) was about the end of the world, but the movie might have also helped save us from a terrible fate in real life. Were it not for Roland Emmerich (whose new gladiator series, Those About to Die, is coming to Peacock next month), we could be living in the year “two-thousand-twenty-four” rather than “twenty-twenty-four.” 

Younger readers might not remember, but for the first decade and change of the 21st century, everybody pronounced the year as though it were a number. This was understandable, to start. “The Mummy came out in nineteen-ninety-nine” rolls off the tongue a lot better than “The Mummy came out in one-thousand-nine-hundred-ninety-nine.” Likewise, “the year two-thousand” made more sense than “the year twenty-oh-oh.”

For More on 2012:
Behind the Scenes of Roland Emmerich's Epic Sci-Fi Disaster Movie
Earth Narrowly Missed a Solar Storm "Apocalypse" in 2012
Neutrinos & Tsunamis! Making Sense of 2012s Apocalyptic Science 

How Do You Pronounce "2012"?

As the new millennium continued, though, so did the trend of primarily pronouncing years like they were normal numbers. There are a lot of reasons for this, but one that can’t be denied is the significance of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. That landmark movie, which is pronounced “two-thousand-one” rather than “twenty-oh-one,” is a hugely influential film and a cultural touchstone, so it makes sense that people would refer to the year with the same cadence as they referred to the movie. 

Kubrick did not make a movie called 2002: A Space Odyssey, though. Nor were there Space Odysseys 2003-2009. (There was a sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, which Kubrick did not direct, but we digress.) And yet as the decade continued, we were still pronouncing the year in full rather than adopting the “twenty-blank-blank” formula that had severed humanity for the past two millennia. “Nineteen-oh-eight” was fine, but noooo, we all needed to be fancy with “two-thousand-eight.”

A plane takes off as the ground caves in beneath it in 2012 (2009).

Would this trend continue for a thousand years? Heaven forbid. The thought of having to say “the year two-thousand-three-hundred-oh-one” instead of “the year twenty-thirty-one” is ghastly. Luckily, with the turn of the decade came a switch. If “two-thousand-blank” admittedly sounded a bit more natural than “twenty-oh-blank,” the same couldn’t be said about the start of double-digit years. “Twenty-ten” sounded much better, and yet there were people, propelled through inertia, who started out the decade saying “two-thousand-ten.”

Enter 2012, a fantastic blockbuster disaster flick. Inspired by the supposed ancient Mayan prediction that the world would end in the year 2012, the John Cusack-led movie hit theaters in the fall of 2009. This meant that there were advertisements for 2012 everywhere — and, crucially, in all those trailers and ads, the name of the movie was pronounced “twenty-twelve,” not “two-thousand-twelve.”

Would society have eventually dropped the whole ‘two-thousand” prefix for “twenty” as the years got unwieldy to say out loud? Sure. And was the year 2010 a natural transition point? Also yes. And yet we feel very strongly — with absolutely no data or hard evidence to support such a stance, to be clear — that the movie 2012 helped give the masses the little nudge they needed to make the switch when saying year names out loud. Is 2012 the most important movie of the millennium so far? Perhaps, but that’s up to you to decide. 

2012 is now streaming on Peacock. All episodes of Those About to Die will premiere on Peacock Thursday, July 18 — just in time for the Paris Olympics. Every event of the Summer Games will stream live on Peacock. Opening Ceremony coverage begins July 26 at 12 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock.