Please help find what is the logic behind:

  1. Nineteenth century
  2. Nineties (decade)

By googling I found that (1) means 1801-1900 so we call it "nineteenth century." It is being called by the last of the years (i.e., 1900). But (2) is 90–99 and is being called by the first of the range (i.e., 90). Please help me out since I find it confusing in many cases.

closed as off-topic by AmE speaker, choster, jimm101, Nigel J, tchrist Nov 4 '17 at 0:57

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If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • It all depends on your point of reference. Up until the year 2000, the years 1890-1899 were referred to as "the nineties" or, when speaking of the culture of the era, "the Gay Nineties". Now, of course, when you speak of "the nineties" you must somehow, explicitly or via context, identify what century you're referring to. But the 1990s were not that gay (in fact, the term was deprecated by that point), so "the Gay Nineties" will always refer to the 1890s. – Hot Licks Jan 4 '17 at 3:22
  • With regard to the "Nineteenth Century", that refers to the years 1800-1899 -- the "First Century" is considered to have started with the year 0000 AD (which of course never existed, but calendars have never been all that logical). – Hot Licks Jan 4 '17 at 3:24
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    @HotLicks: I'd want to see a citation for that. – gnasher729 Jan 4 '17 at 14:45
  • Here is a sort of reference for the "naughty nineties" (1890s, that is): youtube.com/watch?v=nVzSvNE90mI – Greg Lee Oct 30 '17 at 2:23
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    I'm voting to close this question off topic because it's not about the English language. It's about western civilization. – AmE speaker Oct 30 '17 at 2:25

In some ways this is all about random convention, but in the spirit of making this be about English grammar, notice that nineteenth is an ordinal while nineties is not.

That is, having a nineteenth century presupposes an eighteenth, seventeenth, etcetera, on back to the first century. The first century of the common era is defined as the years 1-99 (or 100 for the extreme pedants among us). The reason for this is probably best left as a question for History SE.

The criterion for the term "nineties" is different: it only has to have "ninety" in the number. Nowadays, this usually refers to the decade 1990-1999, but the term "gay nineties" used to be quite common, referring to social and cultural events of the years 1890-1899.

Although we now use "nineties" to refer to a decade in some century or another, it wouldn't surprise me(*) if some 11th-millennium wag would refer to the years 9000-9999 nostalgically as the "nineties".

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    (*)Admittedly, I will be beyond surprise (if you insist, actually "dead") at that point. – Spencer Jan 4 '17 at 3:44
  • @tchrist The 18th Century is already a lie, because 1752 is missing 11 days? – Spencer Jan 4 '17 at 4:15
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    Looks like I forgot that this SE is the Fount Of All Pedantry. Next Winter Bash, EL&U should award Extreme Pedant hats. – Spencer Jan 4 '17 at 4:20
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    It's the same logic as the old custom, sometimes seen on tombstones, of stating someone's age as 'in his fortieth year', i.e. he was 39. You complete your 40th year on your 40th birthday. – Kate Bunting Jan 4 '17 at 17:09
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    @Sislam I think I answered your question, but unfortunately I also tried to be clever about a peripheral issue and the fancy wags fixated on that. – Spencer Nov 2 '17 at 22:23

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