There’s No “The” There

When I took my one and only linguistics class, I learned about prescriptive grammar rules versus descriptive grammar rules, and 30 years of semantic arguments were instantly invalidated for me: the rules of language are arbitrary and inconstant. Language is how we use it, and every person who speaks creates subtle differences. I still love language, but my desire for semantic arguments has gone from full-sphincter-clench to as-long-as-we-understand-each-other-relaxation.

From a local blog Lodging in Public:

The authors of “The Dogpatch Howler” seem to think their neighborhood is called “the Dogpatch”. No, folks, it’s called “Dogpatch”. Just “Dogpatch”. As in Li’l Abner’s Dogpatch. Is that so hard to figure out?

Apparently it is! Giving myself a pass for places where “Dogpatch” is an adjective (“the Dogpatch neighborhood”), I’ve used a “the” in two post titles and used a “the” in about seven articles.

Is it wrong? Should I be chagrined? If I say just “Dogpatch,” do you think “the neighborhood” or “the saloon?” The town in the comic did not need a “the,” since it was the town’s proper name. “7×7 Loves San Francisco” sounds right — it’s a place and this is its name. “7×7 Loves the San Francisco” sounds very wrong. The San Francisco what? Why include the definite article? Is San Francisco not a thing, but an idea?

“7×7 Loves the Dogpatch” or “7×7 Loves Dogpatch” — does that headline need “the” as a bit of lubricant to be readable? Does it not? Which sounds right? Is this just like people from Los Angeles referring to 280 as “the 280?”

In any case, the new Dogpatch Howler style guide will mandate the exclusion of “the” unless it sounds really weird or is being used as an adjective. I might go back and fix the text of posts, but I’ll leave the titles so as not to cover up my shameful past.

One Comment

  1. sam wrote:

    i think it’s “the dogpatch,” like “the mission.” most people i hear refer to my neighborhood call it “the dogpatch.” it sounds weird without the article. :)

    Sunday, December 9, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. Dogpatch Howler › Micro-mini-hood: South of Dogpatch on Sunday, December 9, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    […] It really is either “Dogpatch,” “Dog Patch,” but the Howler style guide specifies all one word and no “the.” That said, no [sic] is needed for alternate […]

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