In his Los Angeles Times column today, Michael Hiltzik writes, "Housing and easy money are unlikely to be the engines of growth in the Twenty-tens that they were in the Twenty-oughts." And, in doing so, he stirred up the mush of information I carry around in my head -- a shockingly large portion of which traces its origins to "Simpsons" episodes.
You see, Grampa Simpson uses "ought"/"aught" this way all the time -- albeit while referencing a period about a century prior. "The year was Nineteen-aught-six. The president was the divine Miss Sarah Bernhardt ..." But, without thinking about it, I had associated "ought"/"aught" with "twenty" instead of with "zero."
And I just now figured out why: In a different episode, Grampa goes off on a yarn that begins: "Now, my story begins in Nineteen-dickety-two. We had to say 'dickety' 'cause the Kaiser had stolen our word 'twenty.' I chased that rascal to get it back, but gave up after dickety-six miles …"
So I had remembered that Grampa used an old-timey word to stand in for "twenty," but I had forgotten that it was one of two words he used in place of years.
Anyway, I was thrilled to see this in Hiltzik's column because, in 2009, it's the first time I've seen anyone use a name for the current decade in the way we used to say "the nineties," the "eighties" and so on. I realize that this could evoke a "Where've you been?"-type response from people who've already observed such a term. That's why I'm a little reluctant to admit all this. But I'm emboldened by the fact that the 2008 book The Stuff of Thought by all-around smart person and keen language observer Steven Pinker also notes that our culture has no nickname for our decade. So wherever I've been is also where he's been, which is not a bad place to be.
Anyhoo, here's the definition:
aught (also ought)
a cipher; zero
archaic: nothing —American Heritage Dictionary
And here's a bonus:
Recipe for June Brain Mush
4 parts sitcom
1 part scholarship
Shake vigorously for 20 years and allow to set in a room tempered by intellectual boredom and post-vacation restlessness.