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What Year Is This?

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When first spontaneously catapulted into another era, a simple glance at a nearby news vendor (whether robotic or lovable suspendered urchin) should suffice to pinpoint the date. There is no need to walk up to a stranger, shake them by the shoulders, and say "The year, man! What YEAR is it?!"
Basic Time Travel Etiquette,

Damnation, you've traveled through time and have no clue when you've ended up! How are you to ascertain what time period you're in, or where you are? Surely you can't just ask a random passer-by — they would think you mad!

Of course, that's what most people do. In Speculative Fiction you would be surprised just how helpful random passers-by are. Asking them suddenly "What Year Is This!?" or "Where am I?", rather than scaring them and convincing them of your lunacy, elicits, "Why, sir, it's the year 30025; we are in the heart of the Great Space Empire. And did you notice that massive explosion the other day, and how strange everyone's been acting since?"

Perhaps surprisingly, in Real Life, people will generally give a straightforward and honest answer if you ask this question. This is either because people are too polite to not answer the question, or because some people forget the year frequently. (It could also have something to do with the fact that as far as we know, time travel doesn't exist in real life.)

This is usually very useful for our time traveler: he now knows not only where he is, but also what his random task for this week's episode is.

Compare Expospeak.

One variation on this trope is for the character to ask for "the date", then clarify, once given the day or the month and day, that they need the year. Another is for an exchange to involve a confusion between the year and the time of day, which works for a certain set of years before 2400 (assuming 24-hour time).

More subtle travelers seek out a newspaper, if such things exist during the time they travel to.

If the time traveller had a specific purpose in mind, this may be followed up with a line describing how they feel about their destination; examples include "That can't be right!" and of course "Then it's not too late!"

Note that time travel is not always necessary to invoke this trope. A long and agonizing prison sentence in the dungeons of the Evil Empire, the end of the world as we know it, or just plain old amnesia can do it.


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  • A commercial aired during the 2012 Major League Baseball postseason for State Farm Insurance showed former Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood talking with a State Farm agent about a "discount double check." He says that he used to do an "ivy double check" after each game and reaches into the ivy outside Wrigley Field, pulling out "an old cell phone... a French horn... Andre Dawson?" "What year is it?" asks Dawson. After some brief info about State Farm, Dawson runs off with a baseball shouting "Caught it! Whoo!" (Dawson retired from Major League Baseball in 1992 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.)
  • Blokey British TV channel Dave is currently (2012) running a self-advertisement in which a time traveller in full Flash Gordon-esque costume pops out of nowhere on a present day street, strides dramatically to the nearest passer-by and demands "What year is it? Quickly man!" He then goes on to explain that Dave is doing so well and introducing so many cool new programmes and features, that in the future they will rule the entire world.
  • In a GEICO ad, a man digs a number of things out of his couch including an old sitcom star, who asks "What year is this?" followed by a Laugh Track.
  • An ad for Amazon's Alexa shows a guy in a t-shirt asking a bunch of panicking people calmly, "Excuse me? Excuse me? What year is it, please?" One of them shouts at him "It's 79 A.D.! Run for your lives!" as he and the others flee an exploding volcano. Back in the present, the man is in his living room, telling his daughter that this is when the volcano that destroyed Pompeii erupted, having gotten this information from Alexa, though he claims he "just remembered it." The daughter then asks him what the volcano's name was and he turns back to Alexa.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Haruhi Suzumiya: While fixing the FUBAR Yuki created due to emotions, Kyon uses her Emergency Escape Program to get out. He lands in summer, feeling extremely warm in his sweater (it was winter then), and he realizes he has traveled through time. His first instinct is to find out where he is, followed by when is it. And since nobody would feel happy about being assaulted by an apparently delusional guy in a winter coat, he decides on Newspaper Dating instead.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean, moments after Pucci's Made In Heaven accelerated time to the point the universe resets itself, Emporio finds himself back at Green Dolphin Prison. Immediately, Emporio comes across alternate versions of Jolyne and Jotaro in a scenario he recognizes, but wonders just when he is, then Pucci arrives to explain that it is 2011 of the new universe humanity has been brought to.
  • In Kabukimonogatari, Koyomi and Shinobu intended to go back just one day in time, but when Koyomi asks a local schoolgirl if it's a certain day, she tells him that it's actually about three months before that day. Then he asks her the year, and realizes that he's gone back eleven years.

    Comic Books 
  • The Transformers (Marvel): When Galvatron travels back in time to 1986, he asks this question of a passing human. The human answers before running off in terror.
  • In The Mighty Thor #371, a time-travelling lawman named "Justice Peace" appears out of thin air and asks a bystander "What's the date, citizen?" He has to ask a second time, less politely (he's an Expy of Judge Dredd), before the bystander pulls himself together enough to reply.
  • An issue of All-New, All-Different Avengers opens with the sudden appearance of an old-school supervillain Iron Man hasn't seen in years. When he demands to know the current year, Tony gets halfway through joking "You make me want to ask the same thing," before being hit. As it turns out, he's so out of sorts because he just escaped from Pleasant Hills.
  • The Walking Dead: None of the protagonists know what the exact date is after a year of events. The date is never mentioned by the residents of Woodbury, Christmas is approximated, and even the residents of the Alexandria Safe Zone have lost precise track of the date fourteen months after Z-Day, even digital watches did not survive the apocalypse.

    Fan Works 
  • The Man with No Name: The Doctor spends much of the story confused about where/when he is and eventually simply asks. It does nothing to help get the Serenity crew to think he isn't completely bonkers.
  • My Choices: Twisted Tales Through Time: On finding herself newly Trapped in the Past, Twilight asks Surprise the year near the end of their first conversation. Surprise being herself, she doesn't find it an odd question at all and simply answers.
  • My Master Ed: Edward interrogates a bandit that attacked him and to avoid asking this question directly, he quizzes the bandit about personal info instead.
    Ed: What is your name?
    Branko: Branko.
    Ed: Branko. Right. What year did you form you little group?
    Branko: Uh… 1472, I think?
    Ed: What year did Armin join you?
    Branko: 1473, three years ago!
  • Only a Boy: After being unexpectedly thrown over a thousand years into the future, Merlin does this at right about the time he's starting to get hysterical from finding out he's a legend in this time period. The woman he's talking to assumes he's been drugged.
  • Ranma Restart: Bid for Freedom: Inverted — after landing in the past and being separated from Ranma, Ran (female Ranma) is asked by Cologne what year she thinks it is. Ran replies Heisei 1 (1989), only to be informed that it's actually Showa 52 (1977).
  • Pokémon Journeys: Hisui Legend: Chloe is confused about the strange things that she sees, and questions where she is. It's only when she learns what year it is, does she react appropriately.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Black Knight (2001), Martin Lawrence's character Jamal finds himself in The Middle Ages in England. When he finally realizes that it's not a theme park, he asks a servant girl if it is a certain date. She confirms that it is. He then, just to make sure, asks if the certain year is correct. She is a little confused that his year starts with a 2 and replies something that starts with "It is the year of our Lord..." Needless to say, Jamal is a little freaked out, especially since he'd just witnessed a beheading.
  • Asked by Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) in Contact after traveling through time and space. Going with Einstein's Theory of Relativity, she assumed that it was many years after her departure, even though she feels like she's only been gone around eighteen hours. As it turns out her journey took approximately two seconds in Earth time, and everybody else assumes the machine failed to send her anywhere.
  • In Deadpool 2, Cable comes from the future to prevent the death of his wife and daughter. "What year is it?" is his first question to some rednecks when entering the present timeline.
  • Edge of Tomorrow: The first time he dies in the invasion only to wake up the day before back in barracks, Will Cage asks his sergeant what day it is.
  • Flight of the Navigator is a rare case where it's the time traveler who's asked this question, as at the time he didn't know he had traveled eight years into the future.
  • A clever variation appears in Hot Tub Time Machine: instead of directly asking the year, Nick asks, "What color is Michael Jackson?" (The answer "black" confirms he has traveled into the past).
  • A variation appears in the movie Jumanji. Finally released after spending twenty-six years trapped in a board game, Alan jumps on the hood of Carl's police car and demands, "What year is it?". Carl replies, "It was brand new", referring to the make of the car. Judy gives him the answer when he asks a second time.
  • Forced a bit in Men in Black 3, where Agent J travels back in time successfully to a date he set, then appears rushed and agitated in a Chrysler Building elevator, speaking to a scared white man after he was just reminded the current time period in New York wasn't particularly welcoming to black people.
    Agent J: My, man, what's the day?
    Man in Elevator: Tuesday.
    Agent J: The date?
    Man in Elevator: The fifteenth.
    Agent J: Of?
    Man in Elevator: July!
    Agent J: Duh! The year?
    Man in Elevator: 1969!
    Agent J: Thank you! Lookin' at me like I'm crazy!
  • Played straight in The Mummy Returns; it's the first thing that Imhotep asks when he is revived. Since his servants are the ones who dug him up, he gets the answer quickly. Although also slightly subverted, since he's asking for the year according to an ancient Egyptian calendar, and the relevance isn't in how long he's been out, but whether or not it's the right time to summon the Scorpion King.
  • In The Sorcerer's Apprentice, the bad guy (Alfred Molina) comes out of his can, and immediately asks David, "When am I?" David misunderstands, tells him where he is, and he has to repeat the question.
  • In the Dark Shadows movie:
    Barnabas Collins: What is the year?
    Willie Loomis: 1972.
    Barnabas Collins: "1972"?
  • Parodied in the film of The Spirit; when asked what year it is in the Anachronism Stew setting, the title character replies "This year!"
  • Star Trek:
    • Subverted in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. All official material indicates they travel back to 1986 (the year the film was released), but Spock determines from the pollution in the atmosphere as being "the latter half of the twentieth century" and Kirk doesn't ask to get more specific than that as it doesn't matter. Later, Kirk is seen looking at a newspaper machine, but only to confirm that the time period still has a currency-based economy and they will need to acquire some money in order to complete the mission.
    • Averted in Star Trek: First Contact, as the ship's sensors identify the approximate time period from orbit from the level of pollution in the atmosphere and then narrow it down to a specific date when they see where specifically on Earth the Borg are attacking. Data also mentions taking astrometric readings, presumably comparing the stars where they are to where they should be in their present.
    • In Star Trek (2009), the Romulans asks "What is the current Stardate?" to Captain Robau at the beginning. Modified from the norm: he is not uncertain of the date — he is certain of an incorrect date. He is just asking that question because he figures Captain Robau is screwing with him. When he finds out they're in the wrong year, the Romulan commander kills Robau in a fit of rage.
  • The Terminator
  • Averted in the film Time After Time. H. G. Wells travels through time to 1979 San Francisco. He runs down the street and asks random people what year it is, but they all think he's some kind of kook and don't answer. Eventually he finds a newspaper with the date on it.
  • A variation in The Flash (2023). Barry Allen thinks he's created an alternate timeline, and only realises he's also traveled back in time on seeing his younger self. His first question is therefore, "How old are you?" (This is no less confusing, given that Alternate Barry is being asked this question by a nutter wearing his underwear who turns out to be his identical twin.) Barry only asks his alternate self to confirm the date later, when he realises he's arrived on the same day he got his powers.

  • In the Discworld novel Night Watch, Vimes averts this — mostly because he doesn't know he time-traveled until later. Instead, he has an Oh, Crap! moment when he encounters his wife as a teenage girl. Later in the story Dibbler (who is not a time traveler) asks him what year it is so he knows what to put after the word "Est." on his tray.
  • The main character of the novel The Time Traveler's Wife time-travels involuntarily, and ends up disoriented in other times so often that friends and family close enough to know about his condition will sometimes tell him the year before he has a chance to ask.
  • Harry Harrison's The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World. After traveling back through time about 33,000 years, Slippery Jim De Griz captures a man and asks him what year it is. He's told it's 1975.
  • Happens in Connie Willis' novel Doomsday Book. Slightly inverted, because the character had purposely gone back in time, and had been in the past for several weeks in what she thought was 1320, but turned out to be 1348, when the Black Death reached England.
  • A non-time travel example that may also be the Ur-Example occurs in The Count of Monte Cristo: during his time in prison, Dantes has lost track of the time passed, and so when he escapes he needs to ask "What year is this?" to the sailors who pick him up from the sea.
  • The Animorphs ask a French knight this question in Elfangor's Secret. He looks at them like they're mad before humoring them. Later, they get smarter and use the newspaper trick, but since Rachel had already morphed an elephant in front of them, subtlety was pretty much a moot point.
  • Occurs and played with in Warhammer 40,000 Night Lords novel Lord of the Night. Commander Zso Sahaal crashes on an Imperial Hive World after being waylaid by the Eldar. He knows he's been gone for some time and is unwilling to risk exposure by seeking a public outlet. So, he kidnaps a man to tell him what year it is. The terrified man simply tells that the year is 986, making Sahall think he's been gone for 600 years. While pondering the implications, he gets a nagging afterthought and asks the man if he meant 31,986. Cue BSOD after the man tells him that the year is, in fact, 40,986.
  • Oona Out of Order: This happens when Oona does her second leap, this time to the past. She finds herself in a crowded club, in outlandish clothes and can tell she is under the influence of something other than alcohol. She asks another woman what year is it, and she gets this in response: "You must be more messed up than I am. It's 1991. Happy New Year."
  • In Lest Darkness Fall, Martin Padway finds himself transported to Rome in 535 AD. He tries to ask people the date in his shaky Latin, and at first gets the year in the old Roman calendar then has to ask how many years since Christ was born to get the proper year.
  • In Robert E. Howard's "The Scarlet Citadel", Pelias asks Conan the Barbarian this, and realizes it's been ten years, which explains his lack of coherency.
  • Inverted in Lawrence Block's Tanner on Ice, when Evan Tanner is perfectly sure of what year it is — 1972 — except that thanks to a Swedish agent (long story) who turned him into a Human Popsicle, he's wrong by a quarter of a century.
  • Thursday Next, The Eyre Affair: Thursday and Bowden stop a temporal rift by driving into it, and after re-emerging they ask mission control what year it is. Doubly subverted: not only does Chrono-Guard understand the question exactly (because dealing with temporal anomalies is their job), they are so jaded that they tell Thursday a ridiculously exaggerated date, just to mess with her head.
  • The Time Machine gamebook series has this in spades. Not just the year; the Kid Hero tends to be surprisingly clueless about many basic facts about the era where he's going. Rarely does this get him anything worse than a weird look from the locals.
  • Inverted in Looking Backward. When Julian awakes, unaware that he has slept for over a century, Dr. Leete has to ask him when he first went to sleep, eventually leading to this:
    Dr. Leete: You say that it was May 30th when you went to sleep?
    Julian: Yes.
    Dr. Leete: May I ask of what year?
  • In The Ruby Red Trilogy, Gwen asks people on the street what year it is during her first unexpected jump in time. They don't give her an answer, but she realizes that it doesn't matter because even if she found out, she still wouldn't know what to do.
  • A variant in A Christmas Carol: Ebenezer Scrooge has been visiting the past and future in the company of spirits, enough to make him think he may have been gone too long and missed Christmas. When he asks a boy in the street, "What day is this?", the lad is clearly surprised Scrooge doesn't know it's Christmas.
  • In the Deathlands novel "Ice and Fire", a man wakes up from cryogenic freezing and asks not only what year it is, but "Who am I?" Once his brain starts working again, he asks what year it is "and what in the name of God Almighty is happening?" having realised that something bad has happened if he's been woken by armed strangers instead of doctors and nurses.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A fellow in a Brazilian show had a variation of this — he'd ask what the current composition of the national soccer team is.
  • In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. when Jemma is stranded on an unknown planet and encounters the (also stranded) astronaut Will, he asks her for the year, since there is no way to tell time there.
  • Averted in Altered Carbon. The protagonist Takeshi Kovacs lives in a future where your memories and personality are recorded on a cortical stack. If you die they can be implanted in a new body or even transmitted via Subspace Ansible to another planet. So his first questions on being resleeved are how long was he in storage (250 years) and which planet is he now on? (Earth) Then he demands a mirror to see what body he's in. It's not the one he was born (and died) in.
  • Babylon 5: Asked by the commander of Babylon 4 as soon as he is told where Sinclair and Garibaldi came from.
  • Barney Miller, the end of one episode: it's a foggy day out, a locked up old street musician is looking at a long stretch in jail, Barney is depressed over being passed over for promotion again — then bluesy trumpet music starts playing. The musician was given his horn to play and everyone in the squad room is quietly transfixed. Another guy in lockup asks "What year is this?" and gets shushed.
  • A Bit of Fry and Laurie: Mocked in a sketch about time travel, in which Hugh Laurie, dressed in a deerstalker and cape, reveals he has traveled forward in time five minutes, then asks who the Prime Minister is, and if Noel Edmonds is still alive. (To which Stephen Fry replies "Not that I'm aware of.")
  • The Boys (2019). A variation in "The Big Ride" when Billy Butcher wakes up in a parking lot after being dumped there by flying superhero Homelander, and has to barge into a nearby fast food restaurant and ask which city he's in. His crazed demeanor and the confused reaction of the woman at the counter is played entirely like the time travel version.
  • Faith, on awaking from her coma in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
    Faith: What day is it?
    Girl: Friday.
    Faith: What date? The date!
    Girl: February 25th.
    Faith: What year?
  • Played completely straight in the 1991 Dark Shadows in the 1790 segment.
  • Doctor Who: The Doctor does this in far too many episodes to count. Answers like the one given above usually point them in the direction of their latest adventure in the process.
    • In "Marco Polo", the first Doctor asks Marco what year it is, leading Marco to ask the Doctor exactly how long he has been travelling.
    • The Third doctor rather hammily asks this question to two women in the Dimensions in Time special, being told it is 2013.
    • In "The Awakening", the Fifth Doctor asks an English medieval peasant this question, and in an amusing nod to the times, the man's reply is something along the lines of "Wait, wait, I know this..."
    • Less common in the new series: the Doctor and their companions prefer to determine the year through Newspaper Dating or otherwise deducing it from the environment. When the Ninth Doctor tries this trick straight (in "The Long Game"), he is mocked. Luckily to him, he happens to be talking to news reporters, who, after his insistence, have him Mistaken for Special Guest and thus provide all the exposition he requires.
    • "The End of the World": When Rose goes on her first time travel adventure with the Doctor, she calls her mother from five billion years in the future, only to find herself a bit stymied with this question.
      Rose: What day is it?
      Jackie: Wednesday, all day. You got a hangover?
    • Subverted in "The Stolen Earth":
      The Doctor: Excuse me, what day is it?
      Milkman: Saturday.
      The Doctor: Saturday. Good, good, I like Saturdays.
    • Played straight in "The Next Doctor":
      The Doctor: You there, boy, what day is this?
      Boy: Christmas Eve, sir.
      The Doctor: What year?
      Boy: You thick or something?
      The Doctor: Oi! Just answer the question.
      Boy: Year of our Lord, 1851 sir.
      The Doctor: Right, nice year ... bit dull.
    • In "The End of Time", when the Doctor travels back in time to before he first met Rose to see her one last time, he comes across as someone who's downed one too many drinks.
      The Doctor: What year is this?
      Rose: Blimey, how much have you had?
      The Doctor: Well...
      Rose:: 2005, January 1st.
      The Doctor: 2005 ...
      [Rose awkwardly nods]
      The Doctor: Tell you what ... bet you're gonna have a really great year.
    • In "The Big Bang", Amy works out the year by looking at the height and hairstyle of her child self.
    • Another take on this trope is the Doctor (who has Seen It All) telling the date from the technology around him, e.g. in "Kill the Moon".
      Courtney: This isn't the Moon. Where are we?
      The Doctor: On a recycled space shuttle. 2049, judging by that prototype version of the Bennett oscillator.
    • "The Tsuranga Conundrum": While examining the ambulance ship's antimatter drive, the Doctor asks Ronan what century it is, and in response to his confused question explains that she and her friends are time travellers. (67th, by the way.)
    • "Demons of the Punjab": Graham asks this question soon after the TARDIS crew arrives in the Punjab. It's 1947.
  • Dollhouse
    • Caroline asks DeWitt this question for entirely non-time-travel related reasons: at the time, she's both amnesiac and being confronted with the implausibly futuristic mind-altering technology that's the premise of the show. note 
    • Various other characters, upon being awakened with their "real" personalities, have asked what year it is because they knew time would have passed while they were dolls.
  • Farscape
    • The "Where Am I?" version happens "A Human Reaction". John Crichton finally makes it back to Earth (or so he thinks), crashlands Farscape One on a beach in Sydney Harbour, walks up to a woman there and asks her to confirm that he's landed in Australia. The woman stares at him...then John realises she's staring past him at the squad of soldiers and a Blackhawk helicopter coming over the ridge.
    • Played straight when they really do make it back to Earth in "Kansas". Crichton has the others scan for radio signals and picks up a news report mentioning President Reagan. He's not happy, as this means he's arrived at a point in the timeline before he left.
  • Spoofed in The Fast Show, with a space-suited character who runs into ordinary rooms and frantically shouts "What year is it? Who's the President?" and then runs out before he gets a reply.
  • A variant in the failed Gene Roddenberry pilot Genesis II (1973), when the protagonist wakes up from suspended animation:
    Dylan Hunt: (haltingly) Year...? Say... year...?
    Primus Kimbridge: (slowly & deliberately) It is the year twenty-one hundred and thirty-three.
  • Played for laughs on Haven:
    Duke: What year is this?
    Man: It's 1955. It's the year you should think about sobering up.
    Duke: Actually, I think that it's the year I start drinking. Heavily.
  • Life On Mars:
    • Sam Tyler to Gene Hunt. Answer: 1973. Almost dinnertime. He's 'aving 'oops.
    • The American version: ("1973, or, as our Chinese Brethren call it, the Year of the Fist!")
  • Lost:
    • Desmond starts down this road because of his time jumping.
    • And when Ben arrives in Tunisia, apparently by a jump in both space and time from the island in early January 2005, he asks for the date. When told it's October 24th, he says, "200...5?" and is told, with only a slightly baffled stare, that yes, it's 2005.
    • Locke is later forced to ask Richard the same question, in 1954.
  • Played for laughs in the episode of Monk where Sharona, his original assistant, came back. When she arrived, Adrian was rinsing his eyes with water to get the dust out following a vacuum-cleaner accident. When he saw her instead of his current assistant, he rinsed his eyes again and then asked her what year it was.
  • In "Mortality Paradox" from The Orville, several members of the crew of the Orville on an away team find themselves encountering bizarre, time-bending scenarios. One of these involves a twenty-first century high school. Gordon Malloy asks one of the high school students for the date. When he gives it as the 19th, Gordon tells him that he wants to know what the year is. The student asks him if he's high. He replies that this is what he's trying to find out.
  • Used in an early episode of Power Rangers Time Force by the villains. Being villains, they chose to ask the guy by grabbing him by the throat and being threatening. (The heroes are able to have their Robot Buddy just tell them when they are.)
  • Subverted in an episode of Seven Days. The hero finds himself in a Civil War battle, which is far further back than the one week the time machine can go. He grabs someone and asks, "What year is this? 1861?" The guy responds, "Dude, what are you talking about?" The hero realizes he just landed in the middle of a reenactment.
  • Gotten around in Sliders, where the Professor would ask people to settle a bet, in a tone that sounded like he already knew the incredibly obvious answer.
  • Three times on Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • In "The Neutral Zone," the season one finale, one of the trio of Human Popsicles the crew rescued asks for the date, which Data gives as 2364, the first time an exact year had ever been given for the "present day" of Star Trek.
    • Inverted towards the end of "Cause and Effect". Captain Picard asks Captain Morgan Bateson what date it is so he can determine when the U.S.S. Bozeman was caught in the time anomaly; Bateson declares that it's 2278 (90 years ago).
    • And in the series finale "All Good Things...", Picard enters the first scene by approaching Worf and Troi and asking for the date. A confused Worf gives the stardate. Picard tells them that he's bouncing between three points on his personal timeline (thanks to Q) and had to reorient himself. As a Bookend, Picard asks them again at the end. That time, he just chuckles and declares he needs a good night's sleep (he relays the story the next day.)
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In "Past Tense, Part I", Sisko and Bashir are found apparently sleeping in the streets (actually unconscious from a transporter accident) by two cops. When Sisko hears one of them mention a "Sanctuary District", he recognizes the historical significance of the term and immediately asks what year it is.
    Officer: Same year it was yesterday. 2024.
  • And in Star Trek: Voyager, we have "Eye of the Needle," where a Romulan on the other side of a wormhole was asked this question through a communications beacon. He gave the year as 2351, which tipped the main characters off that they shouldn't go through the wormhole or else they'd end up twenty years in the past.
  • Subverted on Touched by an Angel, when a man wakes up from a coma. The first thing he says after "I sure could use a cheeseburger" is to ask the nurse how long he was asleep. "Counting today... twelve years."
  • On Twin Peaks, this is the last line of the series, as Agent Cooper, having apparently gone back in time and saved Laura Palmer, takes her to her original home, but finds a stranger living there. Unsettled, he turns back and quotes the trope word-for-word, Laura hears her mother calling her and lets out a bloodcurdling scream. End series.

    Music Videos 
  • In the video for Rick Springfield's song, "The Human Touch", he asks the computer (by typing) what year it is. The computer responds that it's the year 2016 (the song/video came out in 1983).

  • Mercilessly parody-deconstructed in Dead Ringers, which had a recurring segment where Jon Culshaw would Prank Call hapless services in the persona of the Fourth Doctor from Doctor Who. One such segment was simply edited-together clips of him ringing various places and asking "what year is this?", constantly restating until someone gave him a straight answer or hung up. He didn't get a single straight answer.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Rifts this was initially vague to both players and characters in-universe since the setting takes place After the End, the specifics of which were originally left open so as to imply it could have happened in the near-future in relation to when the game was first published. That the in-universe "Post Apocalyptic (P.A.)" calendar is based on the founding of the city state of Chi-Town, not on the Great Cataclysm itself, did not help matters. It was subsequently revealed that the Great Cataclysm happened at 12:00am December 22nd, 2098, when a minor nuclear war was launched on the Winter Solstice during a planetary alignment and as a result The Magic Comes Back. Present game date is 2395 A.D., a fact which characters can learn, since certain surviving pre-cataclysmic groups and nations like the New German Republic still use the Gregorian Calendar.
  • The introductory fiction piece "Lack" for Eclipse Phase begins and ends with the main character waking up at a body bank after being resleeved and - as soon as they can speak - demanding the current date and year. Characters in the setting can never be quite sure whether or not they're missing time since their last body (whether because they weren't in a body during that time, or because the last body died and a copy of their mind from then wasn't recovered), so asking for the date is implied to be common; asking for the year, however, might be mostly a behavior of justifiably paranoid Firewall agents like the protagonist.

    Video Games 
  • The Edutainment Game; The Amazon Trail II (in which you Time Travel by passing through "the blue mist") includes a version of this line in its Dialogue Trees. When asked this question, NPCs helpfully reply with the whole date. One can only assume they think you've been traveling through the rainforest for a long time. Some people you talk to aren't that helpful — for example, one native responds to the question with "the end of the rainy season".
  • Back to the Future: The Game: Marty asks Young Doc what's the exact month he's in after noticing several discrepancies in their conversation and realizing he's traveled to the wrong date due to the machine's time circuits malfunctioning.
  • This exact phrase is used by Nigel in The Lost Crown, because so much of Saxton's architecture, technology, and even its people seem to date from an earlier time. And not even the same time, at that.
  • Final Fantasy XIII-2, in which the playable characters Serah and Noel travel throughout time, but the question often isn't unexpected, because people know that there are strange things going on with time and in some cases also know of the fact that they're time travelers. Serah, however, gives the exact line in a dream version of New Bodhum in The Void Beyond and only earns an insinuation that's she's gone loopy, because it's a fantasy world in which she never started a time travel journey.
  • A recurring situation in the Infinity series:
    • Slight variation in Never7- the protagonist sometimes asks what day it is on certain routes (while keeping his suspicions to himself in others).
    • In Ever17, The Kid asks this not due to being a time traveler, but because he has amnesia. Of course, in some routes the person he asks lies to him, because even if he's not asking because he's a displaced time traveler doesn't mean he isn't one.
    • In Remember11, Kokoro is told by Satoru that she is time-traveling, and asks this of people to confirm or disprove it. She gets conflicting results. The conflict is due to the fact that several of the characters are unknowingly time traveling (or have time-traveled), so the people she asks aren't necessarily all from the same time period.
  • In Ikemen Sengoku, Sasuke shouts to a confused passerby, "There's no time to explain! Please, tell me what the year and date is!" in one route. He actually didn't need to ask as he and the main character already knew that they had time-traveled back to their original time in modern-day Japan, but he tells the main character that he'd always wanted to ask someone that question as a sci-fi geek.
  • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable: The Gears of Destiny, Vivio was Genre Savvy enough to ask this to an unusually young-looking Yuuno who seemed perplexed when she called him Head Librarian, confirming her fears that she had somehow landed in a Time Travel story.
  • In BlazBlue: Continuum Shift, Relius Clover asked Terumi, who is in spirit form, this very question in the beginning of Relius's story mode after he got consumed by the black beast and trying to understand his current situation.
  • Mass Effect 3: In the Leviathan DLC, a mining station has been enthralled for 10 years. Shepard asks them if they know what year it is to see if they remember anything after being enthralled. They don't.
  • As part of the mage questline in Dragon Age: Inquisition, the player character and a mage called Dorian are thrown through a rift. He quickly figures out that you've both travelled through time, but exactly how far and in which direction is unclear until Dorian asks this of a prisoner you find, and it turns out the two of you are a year in the future.
  • At the beginning of the latter half of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Byleth will awaken and can ask the villager who found them what year it is after a reference to the ongoing war is made. Turns out while they were knocked out, the world around them had a five year Time Skip.
  • The question is asked word-for-word in World's End Club, as the Go-Getters suspect they may have been asleep for longer than it seemed. The year turns out to be 1996, one year after their trip, confirming their suspicion.
  • In the Dawnguard DLC of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, when you first meet Serana after she awakens from her tomb she asks about the current time period. The fact that she's completely unfamiliar with the concept of the Cyrodiil Empire puts a couple centuries on her at the very least.

    Web Animation 
  • In The Cloak, the disembodied head of Robert Mitchum uses this phrase, despite not actually having traveled through time.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • In the Dragon Ball Z Abridged version of Episode of Bardock, Bardock spends most of the special trying to figure out what happened to him, but his train of thought gets interrupted every single time. During the final battle, he finally puts all the pieces togethernote  and outright asks for confirmation from Chilled:
    Bardock: Hey! You! What year is it?
    Chilled: Two thousand, two hundred and twenty-two!
    Bardock: B.C. or A.D.?
    Chilled: The hell are those?
    Bardock (flatly): I'm in the (bleep)ing past.
  • One piece of 4chan copy pasta advice for Instant Seduction involves disappearing for a week, growing a beard, getting a tan (including wedding ring tan line), and being found "semi-conscious" in the target's house, naked and injured, demanding to know the answer to this question. Somehow, sex occurs.
  • Played straight when Team One in Suburban Knights released Chuck Jaffers from a magic book. When he asked what year it was, it turns out that he had been trapped for thirty years.
  • Used in Nan Quest when it's discovered that people entered the hotel at vastly different times.
  • The Other Wiki used to have the answer to the question, but not anymore.
  • What Year Is It? is a site with the sole purpose of answering this question.
  • In SCP Foundation, this is used as part of the containment improvement procedures for SCP-2718. Whenever a workstation is found to have accessed SCP-2718, a specialized engineer is dispatched to further reduce the likelihood that someone will come across the article, which cannot be deleted nor can it be access-restricted through conventional means. The engineer then has to take a heavy-duty amnestic, and if they are able to recall the current year or name the current U.S. President, it means either the amnestic didn't work or they didn't take it, and they are to be terminated. The idea is to make sure that no one knows about SCP-2718, due to it being an extremely dangerous cognitohazard.
  • After having on-and-off again contact with a close proximity satellite for hundreds upon thousands of years, the now awakened Pioneer 9 is on their way to understanding both themselves and humanity's new, strange football and culture (i.e. their immortality and how they deal with it through an ever increasing surreal evolution of football). At the end of the prologue, Ten confusedly asks their succecessor satellite and contact point, Pioneer 10, what year it is. While Ten doesn't respond, the answer is clear: 17776.

    Western Animation 
  • Danger Mouse tells Penfold he's going to find out "when we are" as the two traverse time in a grandfather clock in the episode "The Hickory Dickory Dock Dilemma".
  • DuckTales (2017): In "The Outlaw Scrooge McDuck", a time-displaced Gyro appears back in the present at the end of the episode and asks Scrooge this question. Scrooge is too surprised to reply.
  • Parodied in Family Guy. When Stewie and Brian are teleported in time, Brian wonders aloud 'when' they are, Stewie replies with "That is such a douche time-traveler question."
  • Inverted in a short gag from Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law where George Jetson pops in, stating 'I come from the far future year of 2002!' while Harvey squints at his 2005 calendar.
  • The Owl House: In "Elsewhere and Elsewhen", when sticking her head through a time pool, Luz asks a passing woman what era it is.
  • Parodied in one sketch on Robot Chicken. A (we assume) time traveller leans out of a portal that appears in some kid's back yard.
    Time Traveller: Hey! What year is it?
    Kid: Uh, 2006.
    Time Traveller: (laughs) 2006! (suddenly serious) Good luck, buddy. (portal and traveller both disappear).
  • In the South Park episode "My Future Self and Me", the phony news tape used to try and convince Stan that his future self has been brought into the past by a freak accident references this trope.

    Real Life 
  • Real Life (sort of): Pretend To Be A Time Traveler Day got casual results to questions like this. The bystander may think you're crazy, but they'll still answer your questions.
  • This kind of thing happens in early January, combined with people writing the previous year by accident.
  • This is one of the stock questions asked of people who have had strokes or are suspected of other brain damage or dementia.
  • Often asked by patients coming out of a very long term coma.
  • If they possessed a computer capable of connecting to the internet, our erstwhile traveler could simply go to World Time Server. (Offer void before 1998)


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): What Year Is It


I Do Have Some Questions

In the Yaschas Massif, Serah Farron and Noel Kreiss encounter a helpful researcher who asks if he can help them with any questions they might have. So Noel immediately asks him where they are and what year it is, much to the shock of Serah, who can't believe he just blurted that out. As it turns out, though, the researcher already suspected that they might be time travelers.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / WhatYearIsThis

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