No living stratigrapher can remember a time without controversy over differing perceptions of the terms Tertiary, Quaternary, Pleistocene, Paleogene and Neogene. The International Commission on Stratigraphy is presently engaged in an effort to find enduring compromises that may reconcile the contesting factions. The challenge faced by ICS is exemplified in two recently published papers (Lourens et al. 2005; Gibbard et al. 2005) that reiterate, once again, the reasonswhy one usage of the terminology should prevail over another. What appears to be absent from the debate is an awareness of the history and variability of the terms in question, that might suggest points of view that are not apparent from the trenches.We have therefore been asked by Felix Gradstein, Chair of ICS, to republish the key parts of a review of the history ofCenozoic chronostratigraphic terminology that was prepared by the editor of this journal, William A. Berggren, for the Lyell Bicentenary at Royal Holloway College, University of London, Egham, on 31 July-1 August 1997. While Dr Berggren’s partisan views at the time are clearly evident in the article – after all, there has been no neutral ground in Cenozoic chronostratigraphy for over a century – his scholarly examination of the development of this field allows all sides to examine the inherent meaning(s) of the terms we use (or abuse) today, to understand how the conflicts over their formulation arose, and thus – hopefully – to discover nuances that could help to resolve the present impasse. In other words, it may be that the best way forward is to revisit the past. John A. Van Couvering, Editor in Chief, Micropaleontology Press