at the turn of the century

Ljubodrag Gráthas

Senior Member
Serbia Serbian (native), English, Irish (Gaeilge)
Does this phrase mean at the beginning of the century or can I say

“At the turn of the 19th and the 20th centuries”, meaning that something lasted from the end of the 19th century to some years after the beginning of the next one?

Thank you in advance!
 
  • idiomina

    Senior Member
    Canada-english
    At the turn of the 19th century would be the few years around its beginning, and the turn of the 20th would also be a few years around 1900, those two time periods are a hundred years apart.
    Does that make sense?
     

    Ljubodrag Gráthas

    Senior Member
    Serbia Serbian (native), English, Irish (Gaeilge)
    So At the turn of the 19th and the 20th centuries is grammatically correct, signifying let's say for example years 1896-1904?

    Sorry if i'm asking something too obvious I have always thought it meant so, but now i'm a bit confused. thank you so much, your help means a lot to me!
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    No, it is not correct if you're trying to talk about a single turn of the century. As idiomina said, the turn of the 19th century was around 1800, and the turn of the 20th century was around 1900. They are two different "turns", so to speak. Unless you are trying to say that something happened in both periods (1795-1805 and 1895-1905, roughly), your phrase is not saying what you want it to.
     

    MissFit

    Senior Member
    Use, "at the turn of the 20th century" if you mean the years around 1900.

    The turn of the 19th century is the years around 1800.
    The turn of the 21st century is the years around 2000.

    If the context makes it clear which century, then you can simply say, "at the turn of the century."
     

    mgarizona

    Senior Member
    US - American English
    Evidently the phrase "turn of the century" only dates back to 1926 and naturally referred to the the period around 1900 without any numbers attached until, well, Y2K.

    The use of "turn of the ____ century" is common enough but I don't see any reason not to simply write circa 1700, c. 1800, c. 1900, etc. Provides the same information in a much tauter fashion.

    And as for circa 2000, shouldn't that be 'the turn of the millennium'?
     

    Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    And as for circa 2000, shouldn't that be 'the turn of the millennium'?
    No. The new millennium didn't start until January 1, 2001. A decade is not complete until the end of the 10th year (otherwise, it would only be 9 years). A century is not complete until the end of the 100th year. A baby is not one year old until the end of its first year. Hence, a millenium is not completed until the end of the 1000th year which would be 31 December, 2000. Accordingly, "the turn of the century" is somewhat of a misnomer - the date changes from __99 to __00 but the "turn" isn't completed until the end of __00.
     

    mgarizona

    Senior Member
    US - American English
    No. The new millennium didn't start until January 1, 2001. A decade is not complete until the end of the 10th year (otherwise, it would only be 9 years). A century is not complete until the end of the 100th year. A baby is not one year old until the end of its first year. Hence, a millenium is not completed until the end of the 1000th year which would be 31 December, 2000. Accordingly, "the turn of the century" is somewhat of a misnomer - the date changes from __99 to __00 but the "turn" isn't completed until the end of __00.
    It's been generally noted the the phrase "turn of the century" refers to a block of years, a decade or so, in which case your precision seems rather beside the point.
     
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