June 28th, 2006
This year and this decade / had had
by Barbara Wallraff
Daniel J. Lang, of Wynantskill, N.Y., writes: “There was much dispute about how to refer to the first decade of the new millennium. I’ve taken to saying ‘This is two-six,’ meaning 2006. I expect I’ll say ‘twenty-ten’ when I get there (2010). Is there any resolution to how we should refer to these times?”
Dear Daniel: People have been wondering what to call the current decade since well before it began. Many possibilities have been floated -- for instance, “the ohs,” “the aughts,” “the zilches,” “the naughties” and “the preteens.” The cuter the name, of course, the less likely people are to take it seriously, so the less likely it is to catch on as a real name. Evidently, all the suggestions made to date have been too cute or too precious: The decade is more than half over, and it still doesn’t have a name.
Victoria Mulka, of Memphis, Mich., writes: “Is it necessary to double up on the ‘had’s? For instance: ‘She had had two helpings of mashed potatoes.’ I find this frequently in novels I read. To me, it sounds jumbled.”
Dear Victoria: That’s the past-perfect, or pluperfect, tense -- “pluperfect” being a word so frightening to people who don’t know a lot about grammar that you probably shouldn’t say it out loud without looking around you first. The pluperfect tense is actually very useful. Let’s say the novel you’re reading is generally in the past tense -- as in, “It was time for dessert.” If so, the pluperfect is the way the author can indicate a brief flashback: “It was time for dessert, but she wasn’t hungry anymore, because she had had two helpings of mashed potatoes.”
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