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What “THE?”

Our family has a speech impediment:  we add the article “the” to proper nouns, mostly supermarkets.  i.e ~  Wegman’s become The Wegman’s. The four of us never really noticed this habit until the children went out into the wider world and met folks who learned English as a second language.  To them it was obvious how “F.O.B -y,” as in “Fresh Off the Boat”  we sounded.  So lately I’ve become much more aware of the additional “the” I’ve been tossing around when I say I’m off to “the dry cleaner and then “THE Walgreens to pick up some cotton swabs.”

We also noticed a certain big box retailer seems to have some store signs that call it just “Home Depot” and others that proclaim it to be “THE Home Depot.” Same sentiment as: “There’s only one Jeep.”

Notice how using “the” before “dry cleaner” isn’t FOB-y, because the dry cleaner is a generic location, as it were.  I love my dry cleaner very much, but I’d have to look at my pick-up ticket to tell you the proper name of the establishment.  We’ve been to Disney World, and even though there are multiple Disney Worlds, most correctly assume I mean Orlando’s very own tourist mecca.  Yet, I have to add “the” to “boardwalk” if I’m going down the Shore. (And we all will be going back to the Shore, folks ~ Hurricane Sandy, be damned.)

Why do we do this?  Is it an annoying vestige of our progeny’s baby speech we found so endearing as new parents?  Or are we just lazy in the way many native English speakers are?

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8 thoughts on “What “THE?”

  1. I used to work with a doctoral candidate in linguistics, and the topic of her dissertation was the use of the definite article. she was the first to notice how irregularly it’s applied by different types of native speakers: for instance, when Americans get sick they go to the hospital, but the British are ailing they go to hospital. Some restaurants, usually the pricier ones, don’t take a definite article (Let’s go to Daniel) but every respectable diner takes a “the”, as though there were only one Omega Diner or Blue Swan. Remember when we were teenagers and you loaned me the dress I wore to the prom? When did that event become just “prom”? Even weirder, it was always just “prom” in the Midwest – how did that construction travel East, and when? Aren’t we supposed to be the trendsetters? What do they say on the West Coast, DD?

    I guess my point is that yours is not the only family that tosses “the” around a little eccentrically. Every family is its own culture

    1. I am impressed with your professional linguist amiga who could expand the idea of my puny @280 word post into a full-blown dissertation. Which just reinforces my thought that “the” is a lot more complicated than it first appears.

  2. I think it’s just ‘prom’ out here as well, although I must confess it’s been some time since I paid any attention to that annual rite of passage.

    “Spendy” was a new one on me when I moved out here. I think I’d always heard “pricey” before.

    Oh, P.S. Disney World is in Orlando, Disneyland (the original) is the one in Anaheim.

      1. Oh that’s right. I had actually forgotten about those. I didn’t realize the ones in gay Paris and Tokyo were also “Disneyland.”

        Well, now I’m going to be listening to how people refer to things like this.

    1. Grammatically, “the” is used to designate the “only,” as opposed to “a/an” which means one of at least two: for example the NY Times would describe Rosie as A daughter of Boris & Natasha b/c there are 2 daughters, but THE sister of 1True Steph b/c you’re the only sister she has. That doesn’t explain stuff like hospital, prom, or diner, however.

      I’ve never heard “spendy” – it means expensive, or a person who buys a lot of expensive things?

      1. Yes, spendy = expensive, pricey. Oh, another Britishism (I assume that’s what it is) is ‘have a pray’. I follow a Welsh museum that focuses on the Roman occupation of the England, and tweets out various Roman holy days, like “Having trouble with you doors, lock or cows? Maybe the lock on the cow shed? Then have a pray to Portunes, god of keys”

        Sounds very strange to my ears 😉

      2. Brits say “have” the way we say “take” in the sense of “utilize” – we take a bath, or a shower; they “have a tub” or “have a shower.” I might have a look at something, but I am more likely to take a look. We should ask Rowena what they say in Western CA

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