I realized recently that if my young daughter matriculates in the usual way she will graduate from high school in June 2000, which, as I have learned from your book More of the Straight Dope, is pronounced “June of the year two thousand.” My question is, what will her class be called? I know how they’ll write it, of course: Class of ’00. But how will they say it? Class of Zero- Zero? Class of Oh-Oh? (Hmm.) Please hurry with your answer; she may be valedictorian and I don’t want her to say the wrong thing in her speech. –Jeff Greenberg, New York

Cecil has been banging the gong about the pending crisis in decade names (of which your question is merely the latest reflection) for nigh on 20 years–so far, I am obliged to say, without noticeable result. What will we call the decade after the ’90s, I ask–the Nothings? The Nixies? The Voids? Later, say the nation’s leaders. Right now we’re worrying about war, genocide, and national decline. It’s always something, sez I.

Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking, and as your question shows, it’s our children who will pay the price. My research so far, which consists of tossing this out to the Teeming Millions on the radio, has turned up the following: judging from somebody’s grandfather’s college yearbook, last time this problem arose (in 1900), they called it the Class of Aughty-Aught. Do you want your daughter to get up in front of her classmates and have to say that? I didn’t think so. Not to encourage antiintellectual behavior, but if she can’t avoid being valedictorian any other way, tell her to take a dive on that last physics quiz. I know: have her give my answer on why golf balls have dimples. She’ll be right, she’ll be marked wrong, and this particularly icky cup will pass to someone else.

Recently you mentioned fishing for clues on the Internet. Many of us who have just begun to wiggle a toe in those waters would appreciate a description of just how you go about fishing for clues on the Internet, whether about merkins, gherkins, or jerkins. –Neal Bozarth, Takoma Park, Maryland

I should come clean on one point. Cecil does not personally fish for clues on the Internet. Cecil loathes technology of any sort and can barely bring himself to use electric lights. I have my minions do the fishing. But, you may ask, why does Cecil need to fish? Cecil knows all. Even so, things slip my mind. Why, the other day I woke up and realized, my goodness, I’ve completely blanked on the elements in the actinide series. You know the feeling. Thus the Internet. What I have forgotten, surely the net’s two million users can remember. So far it’s worked like a charm.

The Internet, a sort of cooperative on-line computer service, is a lot like the Masons. They don’t advertise, you have to know somebody to get in (working for a research facility is the easiest way, although some commercial gateways are available), and the members communicate by means of obscure signs and rituals. But if you aspire to success in certain walks of life, well, this is one secret society you had probably better join. They don’t even make you wear funny hats.

The aspect of the net that’s of particular relevance to this column is Usenet, a service that the Internet carries, much as the phone system carries Dial-a-Dirty-Joke. Usenet consists of several thousand electronic bulletin boards with names like rec.arts.startrek.info, alt.sex.bestiality, and, not to give a completely skewed picture, sci.math, sci.chem, and many other respectable areas of interest. In each bulletin board (called, misleadingly, a news group, although the ratio of news to drivel in many groups compares unfavorably with the back of a cereal box), users may read messages and post new ones for the edification (occasionally), amusement (more commonly), or disgust (constantly) of all. A saintly few plow through it all and respond intelligently to the interrogatories posted by Cecil’s staff, thereby helping to advance human knowledge and, not incidentally, enable Cecil to get a column in, if not in time, at least not so late that the paper appears with a big white space in a conspicuous spot. Comments, questions, and expressions of admiration may be addressed to Cecil c/o his aide-de-camp and personal trainer, Ed Zotti, at ezotti@merle.acns.nwu.edu.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.