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?