General Question

Ltryptophan's avatar

Which centuries are the pivot point when "turn of the century" is the current description, and no further explanation is given?

Asked by Ltryptophan (10280points) September 14th, 2010

Seems ambiguous since I feel we are not far enough away from the 20th to be certain the intention is not 19th/20th.

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15 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

The intention could be either 19th/20th or 20th/21st – you have to use other clues to figure out which.

Ltryptophan's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir if the topic is current and the reference is 19th/20th shouldn’t there be another way to say it?

Shouldn’t THE be relevant. Turn of THE century…isn’t that a reference to the last change?

Maybe “at the…Turn of the prior century”

CyanoticWasp's avatar

It has to be taken from context, if it’s not specified.

If I were reading about the American Revolution (having just occurred, for example), and “by the turn of the century a government was finally in place” (which was the case for the USA, then I would know that this was “the turn of the 18th into the 19th century.


Jeruba's avatar

Until about 1985 or 1990, we were stitl using “the turn of the century” to refer to the beginning of the 20th. The year 2000 was not a reality in our minds yet, and so we were still looking back.

The best clue is when the reference was written. If it was much before 1999, chances are it refers to the year 1900. Also some of us seniors still use it that way because that’s what it always used to mean.

These days I say “the turn of the present century” and “the turn of the last century.”

[Edit] Of course if it’s in the context of a history book or article, there should be sufficient clues to eliminate ambiguity.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Ltryptophan Not to me – I think it depends on the entire conversation. If you’re discussing 19th and 20th centuries, in general…you can say ‘and then at the turn of the century, xyz happened’ and I’ll know it’s that turn and not the latest.

Ltryptophan's avatar

This century and the last is not so alien that a situation could arise where the subject was undateable from context. Maybe a discussion of springs for instance…?

tinyfaery's avatar

I have a habit of referring to the turn of the century as 1900. I think the phrase needs to be qualified. When there are more people who remember 2000 than 1900, the turn of the century will only refer to 2000.

Sarcasm's avatar

I would expect it to refer to the 19th-20th century.
“Turn of the century” seems like such a big historical phrase to be using on something that happened only 10 years ago. It just doesn’t feel right.

filmfann's avatar

1900. Turn of the Century.

2000. Turn of the Millenium.

CaptainHarley's avatar


2000 Both turn of the century and turn of the millenium.

filmfann's avatar

@CaptainHarley they are both turn of the decades, but no one mentions that.
I mearly offer an easy way to clarify.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Brilliant! : D

davidgro's avatar

I think it’s best simply to avoid the phrase entirely unless it’s perfectly clear what you mean. I would just say “Around 2000” or “Around 1900”. (Which would still make sense if somewhere were to read it 100 years from now, too)

Jeruba's avatar

I thought the question pertained to how to interpret the expression when you see it used, not what to say yourself to avoid confusion.

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