Poor Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary
Poor Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary—he can’t even show up at a holiday party without being cornered by another distraught denizen of the English-speaking world with the query, “What are we supposed to call the decade that’s now ended?” Pretend you’re the editor of the dictionary—how would you answer all those emails? After all, we call the 80’s the 80’s and the 90’s the 90’s. But what shall we call the 00’s? The Zeroes? Hardly. How about the Aughts (English for the number 0)? Or the Ohs? Or the Oh-Ohs (I like that one!)?
Fact of the matter is the English language isn’t going to melt down simply because we can’t come up with a word for the decade that’s now behind us. And it won’t be a philological crisis if we never do. “‘It’s really amusing to me,’ said Dennis Baron, a University of Illinois linguist and curator of a Web site that decodes language in the news. ‘People think if we don’t have anything to call the decade that maybe we will forget it, that it will be some kind of orphan decade, that it won’t exist. But it’s simply not true’” (SBTribune 12-28-09). As it turns out there are other words we’ve been missing for a long time. What do you call former in-laws? (Perhaps it’s best not to call them at all.) What about a romantic friend of an older adult who isn’t married? “Girl friend” sounds too teenager-ish, doesn’t it?
And what does God call the decade that is now behind us? Interestingly enough, he uses a non-chronological term. A word that isn’t bound by the passage of time. A single word that is both descriptive and proscriptive. One word that transcends the idiosyncrasies of the English language . . . or any other language, ancient or modern, for that matter.
Just one word. But in it is contained the divine DNA of the gospel we still call everlasting. The word? Forgiven. That’s it. Forgiven. Because two hundred decades ago “on a hill far away” God from his cross forgave this rebel race of all our sins (there being no shortage of adjectival modifiers and synonyms in the English language for that very human reality that is all ours—sin). “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (I Timothy 1:15). Forgiven. God’s one word to describe the decade of your life and mine that is now past. And the one–word reason for you and me to bow down this New Year and worship him. Forgiven indeed. Thank God!