In Summary
  • Scientists had been quick to start numbering the first, second, and third laws only for some of them to realise that the fourth law was actually more fundamental than the previous three.
  • They decided to call it the “zeroth” law of thermodynamics so that it appears on top of the list.
  • In the case of the General Election cycle, there is no justification for starting the count of years with zero. Think about it: Why is it that the years beginning with “20” are called the “21st century”?

I am happy that the question of how to count the General Election dates has elicited a good amount of interest. Unfortunately, a lot of the people who say that the General Election after the coming one will be in 2022 do so without any reference to the Constitution. They simply just talk about a five-year term.

One reader, though, likened the situation to the “fencing pole problem”: Suppose you wish to put a fence on a 12m long, straight boundary. If the spacing is 3m, how many poles will you need?

It is very tempting to divide 12 by 3 and say the answer is 4 poles. However, if you buy 4, you will be shocked to find that they are not enough! You actually need 5 poles. The extra one is needed to mark the end of the boundary line.

In a converse sort of way, when the Constitution says “in every fifth year”, it is tempting to assume that it is referring to a five-year term. But, as I have pointed out several times before, that is not the case!

Another reader suggested that we should start counting the number of years from 2018. That is the first year should be the period from August 8, 2018 to August 7, 2019 and so on. So I asked her: what then should we call the duration from August 2017 to August 2018? Is it the “zeroth” (0th) year?

The term “zeroth” was coined by scientists a long time ago in an attempt to rectify an inconsistency in the numbering of the laws of thermodynamics – the rules that govern the movement of heat.

Scientists had been quick to start numbering the first, second, and third laws only for some of them to realise that the fourth law was actually more fundamental than the previous three. They decided to call it the “zeroth” law of thermodynamics so that it appears on top of the list.

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