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Lingo of new millennium 'aught' to be fun

January 23, 1999|By ANDREA ROWLAND

Headlines scream potential Year 2000-imposed computer disasters. The Internet is speckled with Web sites warning of Armageddon. But what of the day-to-day dilemmas denoted by a year that will likely have doodlers dotting zeros to make smiley faces?

Will dates such as 1-1-00 be mistaken for binary computer code?

Will zeros follow nines as the next digits rubbed bare on numeric keypads?

Will America's equivalent to China's "Year of the Dragon" be the "Year of the Ton?"

And what pronunciation rules will frame the language of the new millennium?

Though Hancock historian Ralph Donnelly wasn't born during the first nine years of the 20th century, he said he remembers how old-timers embellished the years' scant syllables.

At the start of the century, many people referred to the zero years with "aught." For example, 1908 was called "aught 8."

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But times have changed, and Donnelly said millennium lingo will likely bypass turn-of-the-last-century terms.

Hagerstown radio station WARX disc jockey Kevin Casey agreed.

"They used to say 'four-score,' too," he said.

Donnelly said he expects "oh" to replace "aught."

But this substitution may breed confusion.

When a sales clerk recently asked for the expiration date on his credit card, Donnelly said "Oh-1."

"The woman couldn't figure out what I was talking about," he said.

Some computer consultants battling the millennium bug will avoid that confusion. Their work demands it.

To make computers compliant, remediators are modifying certain programs so they record dates using a four-digit, rather than two-digit, number.

It's doubtful these tech-types will refer to Y2K or subsequent years with only two digits.

"We will definitely be looking at all four digits after 2000," said William "Skip" Flaherty, computer systems supervisor for Hagerstown.

"In technology, I think we're finally catching up to Star Trek," said Mary Collins, director of computing and networking services at Hagerstown Community College. "There's no such thing as a two-digit year anymore, and Trekkies have known that for a long time."

Many vehicle manufacturers also have decided to advertise using all four digits of the year.

"Initial reactions have been to go with all four digits," said Fred Parsons, owner of Kent Parsons Ford Lincoln in Martinsburg, W.Va. "The manufacturers decided it signifies the car better," he added.

"That '00' stuff is tricky," said Derek Hamilton, owner of Hamilton Nissan in Hagerstown. He said the 2000 models, to be introduced this spring, will be advertised using all four digits.

Frank Lugiano, advertising manager at Hicks Chevrolet Buick Volvo in Greencastle, Pa., agreed. He said manufacturers won't use only the last two digits of the year because they don't want the year 2000 to be confused with 1900.

"It's the Y2K thing," said Lugiano.

Some local disc jockeys said the number of digits spoken will depend on the situation.

Take car commercials.

"If I'm still sitting in front of a microphone in 2002, I can almost guarantee it will be, 'and introducing the new 2002 Fords,'" said Casey.

But if a new Rolling Stones release was slated to hit stores on Jan. 1, 2001, Casey said the year wouldn't even be mentioned.

WHAG/WQCM Radio News Director Will Kauffman said the stations' disc jockeys probably will use all four digits, but he really hasn't given such lingo a lot of thought.

"I'm having enough trouble getting to that point, much less coming up with a phrase to describe it," he said.

Like Kauffman, Collins said the focus has been on getting to the year 2000 unscathed. For now, the spotlight remains on technological efforts rather than linguistic challenges, she said.

Collins said she suspected a number of new phrases to emerge after the New Year, and coined one of her own.

"'Y2K-ing it' might mean spending too much time doing too little, and then cramming at the end," she said.

Some high school Class of 2000 members milling around Valley Mall on Wednesday afternoon didn't "Y2K" ordering their school jackets. Juniors from area high schools said they are eager to graduate, and have already planned whether their sleeves will boast "2000" or "00."

Hancock High School junior Jamie Demory, 17, said she didn't have to think too long about whether to get "2000" or "00" on the sleeve of her school jacket.

"It's just a number," she said. "It's just another class, even though we're weirder than the rest."

Boonsboro High School juniors Tina Boyle and Kari Smith, both 16, said they chose "00" instead of "2000" for their class jackets.

"I think it's really ironic that you have a Class of Zero Zero," said Boyle. "The classes of '98 and '99 have been bragging about their numbers, and I think it's funny that we're nothing," she said.

South Hagerstown High School juniors Marcia Wood and Meghan Nelson, both 16, said they don't mind their graduating class being called "a bunch of zeros."

"We like being different," Wood said.

"It's really cool," Nelson added.

But Smithsburg High School junior Matt Hood, 16, said he'd rather wear the numbers "01" on his arm.

"I'd kind of like it to be a '1' - then we'd be number one," Hood said. "But there's nothing I can do about that now, except fail," he said.

Though most of the Class of 2000 members at the mall said they would proudly wear two zeros, they agreed that formulating pep rally chants would be a challenge.

Few words rhyme with "2000" or "zero."

But how about, "We can't be beat! We can't be bought! We're the class of double aught!"

Or, "Goooooo Oooooohs!"

"Double-aught sounds better than zero zero," said Smithsburg High junior Chris Russell, 17.

As Donnelly predicted, though, the debate between "oh" and "aught" might be for naught.

"Aught" is a term Smith said few people of her generation would understand.

"What's aught?" asked Boonsboro High junior Nick Leefer.

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