Articles and the History of “The”

daniel adlerThe definite article and the indefinite article are important in English. I prefer the former. It is the most common word in English. In German it precedes every noun. In our language it is a conflation of the Old English definite article se, in masculine, seo in feminine and þaet. That p letter is a Thorn. It makes the “th” sound. In Middle English, these article merged into þe, which when written in cursive resembled, ye. By the 19th century, this had been forgotten and pseuo-archaic English pronounced it as Ye Olde English.

But that’s just a little tidbit I thought worth sharing. “The” when coupled with a place name usually pertains to a specific geographic reference, e.g. The Bronx. It comes from the Bronx River, which was named for Jonas Bronck. Similarly, the definite article used to be used with Congo, also named after the River, although now it’s politically incorrect to use it. Why, I don’t know. I guess it’s like the verbal equivalent of pointing. Perhaps post postmodernism will eliminate The from The Bronx, as well as from other nouns.

The indefinite article conveys a sense of floating in a great sea to whatever we describe. Which is perfectly okay, but sometimes not preferable. I try to eliminate the definite article too. Articles are often superfluous. Remove them for more powerful, more modern sounding writing.

By Daniel Ryan Adler

Daniel Adler writes fiction and nonfiction and is finishing his MFA at University of South Carolina.

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