2010 points to Alfred the Great

We leave the noughties, the first decade of the 21st century, and are now in the Year 2010. Common usage will determine whether this is going to be two thousand and ten, twenty-ten or Oh-ten. Nonetheless it is the Year Something Ten and not the Year Something Decem, as it would be in Latin, or something Deka, as it would be in Greek.

Ten is proudly an Old English word, uninfluenced for more than a millennium by foreign language pretensions or even by marauding heathen hordes. Old English was a Germanic language and had four main forms: Mercian, Northumbrian, Kentish, and West Saxon corresponding to four independent kingdoms in ninth-century Britain.

We can thank Alfred the Great (849-899), the King of Wessex, for the success of ten. Ten comes from the Mercian dialect (tien being the West Saxon version). Alfred protected parts of Mercia from being invaded by the Vikings.

In 865 the Great Heathen Army of Danish Vikings arrived in England. To them 10 was tiu. They soon overwhelmed Northumbria, East Anglia and Kent on the eastern coast. Wessex, in the south-west, was invaded but Alfred, after early setbacks, managed to stay Viking-free.

The eastern parts of Mercia, which had stretched across the English Midlands, succumbed to the Viking hordes while the western portion survived in a strong alliance with Alfred (the combined armies of Mercia and Wessex eventually defeated the Vikings about three decades later).

Alfred managed to push back the Vikings to the northeast and eventually he became King of England. He ruled much of the south of England. His scholarship and patronage of literature led to the adoption of Late West Saxon as the first standard for written English. The borrowing of ten from the Mercian dialect probably dates from this time.

Alfred the Great’s achievement was to resist the marauding Viking invaders who were intent on imposing their heathen culture on the Christian, civilized Anglo-Saxon inhabitants of Britain. Had the Vikings triumphed we could well be living in the Year Two Thousand and Ti (ti is the modern Danish word for ten) but because of Alfred we are living in Two Thousand and Ten instead.