Turn of the century. I mean last century. God, early 1900s, okay?
March 23, 2014 6:31 AM   Subscribe

When we say "turn of the century" are we now referring to the 1900/2000 changeover? So what do say when we mean 1800s/1900s? Downton Abbey years? What is the most proper way to put it?

Thanks, oh smart ones.
posted by angrycat to Writing & Language (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Fin de Siecle.
posted by empath at 6:32 AM on March 23 [2 favorites]

End of the 19th Century
Beginning of the 20th Century
Turn of the 20th Century
About a hundred years ago
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:38 AM on March 23

Turn of the previous century. But I prefer Chocolate Pickle's "about a hundred years ago."
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:03 AM on March 23

Questions like this, when my mind is thoughtful enough to produce them, can push me towards an anxiety attack mulling them over. I have found that dropping all ambiguity and just being accurate and specific is best. So if you mean 1899-1900, then hey, say end of the 1890's or beginning of the 1900's etc. This one in particular calls for accuracy because there is a sizable portion of the population which still doesn't understand what is meant by the "19th century"..... So you're at a disadvantage using representative language here already.
posted by chasles at 7:04 AM on March 23

I usually still mean 1800s/1900s, but if I want to be specific I say "turn of the last century".
posted by katemonster at 7:04 AM on March 23 [4 favorites]

I've been saying "late 1800s / early 1900s" or "late nineteenth century and early twentieth century". I think "turn of the century" is still OK though, despite the strictly logical meaning of the phrase. They called their transition "the turn of the century" and the name stuck; we've called ours pretty consistently "the millennium" (though the terms aren't perfectly parallel), and we've named a generation "the millennials" after it. People aren't going to misunderstand what you mean.

(To explain what I mean: Near where I live, there's a mountain called Yellow Mountain. Someone could protest that they all look yellow in the fall, but, no, Yellow Mountain is the name of that one.)
posted by nangar at 8:43 AM on March 23

I live in a building from 1885 and when we recently put it on the market we used "Turn of the last century." Don't know how gramatically correct that is, but it gets the point across.
posted by three blind mice at 9:15 AM on March 23

"turn of the 20th century" = 1800s to 1900s
"turn of the 21st century" = 1900s to 2000s
posted by scody at 9:28 AM on March 23 [3 favorites]

Sorry, meant to say: I'm an editor, and that's how we style it editorially for the books we produce.
posted by scody at 9:30 AM on March 23

Like katemonster and three blind mice, I've been using "turn of the last century". Y2K seems too close to refer to is as anything other than "oh, about 15 years ago."
posted by crush-onastick at 9:32 AM on March 23

When I mean 1899, I'll say "the turn of the 20th century." When I mean 1999, I'll say "the turn of the millennium."
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:48 AM on March 23 [1 favorite]

I've been saying "turn of the last century" in conversation.
posted by sbutler at 10:19 AM on March 23

I like scody's answer. Despite being American, I sometimes use late Victorian era/Edwardian era.
posted by jocelmeow at 10:36 AM on March 23 [1 favorite]

Hurrah, and thanks all!
posted by angrycat at 12:29 PM on March 23

I typically use "turn of the 20th century", or I just say the specific date I'm talking about. Or a more social/history oriented term like Gilded Age, First World War, Edwardian era -- whatever is actually appropriate depending on context.

Fin de siecle is great, but I grew up hearing and speaking French and I'm still not sure how you'd say that in anglophone conversation without sounding, at best, like a total snob.
posted by Sara C. at 3:31 PM on March 23

Well, it's more a description of the era than of the actual turn of the century. You'd say 'In fin de siècle Europe', or something like that, to describe the era around the turn of the century.
posted by empath at 7:43 PM on March 23

Has anyone ever used the phrase "turn of the century" recently and had it lead to any confusion? It's sort of like in NYC, when they talk about "post-war" buildings, it always and still means "post-World War II." I suspect "turn of the century" will probably refer to the fin de siecle for some time.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:56 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]

Well, it's more a description of the era than of the actual turn of the century. You'd say 'In fin de siècle Europe', or something like that, to describe the era around the turn of the century.

Yeah, exactly. "Fin de siècle" is perfectly appropriate and historically accurate (and therefore not pretentious) when talking about a specific sociocultural moment in Europe at that time, but not really appropriate/accurate when just speaking more broadly about the turn of the twentieth century.
posted by scody at 10:35 PM on March 23

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