Origins of the word "THE"

Discuss word origins and meanings.

Origins of the word "THE"

Post by ironknackers » Tue Nov 29, 2005 12:40 pm

I can't stand this word. I googled it and got to here but have had no further success in tracking down why the word exists in the first place.

Is there a more useless word in the english language?

Why do we need it at all?

Should I start a society to actively promote getting rid of it?
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Origins of the word "THE"

Post by dalehileman » Tue Nov 29, 2005 6:42 pm

Cat is an employee of pound. "I want to see a cat" means any resident pussy. "I want to see the cat" means a specific feline, angry implication being the one that was just captured when it strayed outside your residence because you inadvertently left the door open. "I want to see Cat" means the employee you wish to visit, perhaps to lodge your complaint

I'm sure, Iron, that the other guys will help you with origin. In answer to your questions, though; no, see above, and suit yourself but you won't attract many adherents.

Yes, other languages omit the article. How they get away with it could be the subject of another thread

Now tell me you didn't stumble over my first sentence
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Origins of the word "THE"

Post by kagriffy » Tue Nov 29, 2005 6:57 pm

Why do we need it at all? Well, let's try your second sentence without it: ". . . tracking down why word exists in first place." Why WHAT word exists? If "word" exists in first place, what is in second place, third place, etc.? See, "the" can make quite a bit of difference in our understanding.

But go ahead and start your society to rid English of unnecessary words. In fact, why not get rid of ALL the articles (a, an, and the), along with other useless small words? Then we could rewrite Shakespeare thusly: "What name? That which call 'rose' other name would smell sweet." Now doesn't that have a nice ring to it?
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Origins of the word "THE"

Post by Shelley » Tue Nov 29, 2005 7:16 pm

Word, bro'.
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Origins of the word "THE"

Post by minjeff » Tue Nov 29, 2005 7:55 pm

Just speculation on the word origin of "the" :

In German they have six words for "the", they are: der,die,das,den,dem,& des. They all have the "d" at the beginning. "D's" that begin German words tend to become "th's" in English (diese=this,dass=that,dick=thick etc.)

This accounts for the "th".

In French the masculine singular word for "the" is "le". Perhaps the "e" termination and the pronunciation derived from here.

Again, this is all a semi-educated guess and could be utterly and disastrously wrong!

Also, being taught by traditional grammarians I don't like any "naked nouns" and therefore must advocate the use of "the" and all other articles and proceeding adjectives.
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Origins of the word "THE"

Post by ironknackers » Tue Nov 29, 2005 9:58 pm

dalehileman wrote: Cat is an employee of pound. "I want to see a cat" means any resident pussy. "I want to see the cat" means a specific feline,
Yes, I've missed the meaning in the first sentence.

Regarding your answer. Not bad. However, "I want to see the cat" can have "the" substituted with "black" or "3 legged cat" or some other defining word/s and "the" cat would only have significance to a person you had been connected with previously. Any other person would need the cat further defined than "the".

Other posters. Great information. I'm amazed at the Germans having so many words for "the". Maybe that is why they don't have time for fun.
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Origins of the word "THE"

Post by Holly » Wed Nov 30, 2005 12:16 am

You all have me rolling on THE floor! Love THE Shakespeare revision. What A scream!
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Origins of the word "THE"

Post by kagriffy » Wed Nov 30, 2005 7:39 pm

Although I had to read Dale's first sentence a few times myself, I finally figured it out. He means that THE animal pound has an employee named "Cat." (Although it's usually spelled "Kat," it is a fairly common nickname for a Catherine/Kathryn/Kathleen, etc.)

I still don't think you can SUBSTITUTE "the" with "black" or "3-legged." You might be able to clarify by ADDING "black" or "3-legged," but you would still need "the." If you say, "I want to see black cat" (or "I want to see 3-legged cat"), I won't know which black (or 3-legged) cat you want to see. Adding the "the" implies that there is only one. If you know I have several cats (black and/or other colors), you might say "I want to see A black cat." If you know there is only one black cat, then you'd say "I want to see THE black cat." That's why "the" is a DEFINITE ARTICLE and why "a" and "an" are INDEFINITE ARTICLES.

Now, I WILL agree that you can substitute a possessive noun or pronoun for "the." For example, you could say, "I want to see YOUR cat" or "I want to see SALLY'S cat." But substituting an adjective alone just doesn't cut it.

I just thought of another example when a sentence is seriously lacking without "the." If I say, "I'm going to store," someone might ask me, "You're going to store WHAT? WHERE? IN WHAT CONTAINER?" Articles (indefinite and definite) greatly aid in understanding. (By the way, I might add that ironknackers has yet to post a completely article-less reply. *G*)
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Origins of the word "THE"

Post by Shelley » Wed Nov 30, 2005 9:19 pm

There was lengthy discussion of "THE" awhile back, and dalehileman gave the following examples in support of this little word:
. . . I always thought "the" was a useful accoutrement. Consider, for instance, "Dogs have bones," a plain statement of fact. "The dogs have bones" refers to certain specific dogs but unspecified bones, while "Dogs have the bones" refers to particular bones; and so forth
"Dogs have bones" is quite different from "the dogs have the bones". Likewise, kagriffy's "going to store" is way different from "going to the store".
I vote keep the "the".
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Origins of the word "THE"

Post by ironknackers » Wed Nov 30, 2005 10:01 pm

(By the way, I might add that ironknackers has yet to post a completely article-less reply. *G*)
I have one great advantage or bloody great disadvantage in dealing with articles. I live in Taiwan currently and deal daily with a language almost devoid of articles every day.

It works really well, if, a little overly simple to be totally honest about my impressions. This is partly because they do not have the sheer number of word options available we have in English.
There was lengthy discussion of "THE" awhile back, and dalehileman gave the following examples in support of this little word:

quote: . . . I always thought "the" was a useful accoutrement. Consider, for instance, "Dogs have bones," a plain statement of fact. "The dogs have bones" refers to certain specific dogs but unspecified bones, while "Dogs have the bones" refers to particular bones; and so forth


"Dogs have bones" is quite different from "the dogs have the bones". Likewise, kagriffy's "going to store" is way different from "going to the store".
I vote keep the "the".
Can you link to (the) thread? I've missed it in a search.

Btw, I disagree with your examples. It is just that we are so used to using (the) stupid word.

I feel sorry for the Germans who have to use it in so many different ways.
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Origins of the word "THE"

Post by Slateman » Wed Nov 30, 2005 10:26 pm

I often notice the word "the" is used somewhat differently by people from the UK versus here in the US. A common example is the following:

In the US we would generally say: "We brought Alice to the hospital". In the UK (if my understanding is correct), they would say "We brought Alice to hospital".

Here in the US we do leave out the word "the" if we are going to school for example, but I understand that to be the case because we go to school everyday and always to the same school.

Can anyone explain the reason "the" is left out in front of hospital in the UK but used in the US? Is either more acceptable?
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Origins of the word "THE"

Post by JANE DOErell » Wed Nov 30, 2005 10:55 pm

There was this situation where Brits said "I went to University" and we said "I went to the University". I feel that in the US are moving a just a little bit toward the UK usage. Does anyone have a feel for that?

My big gripe with "the" is its use in titles. Once when re-shelving novels at a public library where I volunteered I noticed that 51% of the paperback novels I shelved that day had a title starting with "The...". (We shelved the novels by author so that had nothing to do with my task. It was just an observation.)
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Origins of the word "THE"

Post by adamsargant » Wed Nov 30, 2005 11:47 pm

If I took Alice to hospital, I would not be likely to be interested in telling you which hospital... I would be more interested in communicating the severity of Alice's condition, i.e. that it was bad enough to go to hospital. I would only want to indicate a specific hospital if I wanted to add extra information, e.g. the children's hospital.

In the former situation, it is enough to know she went to hospital. THE is redundant. It tells you nothing. Which hospital?
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Origins of the word "THE"

Post by Slateman » Thu Dec 01, 2005 12:08 am

The "the" is always used in front of the word hospital in the US as far as hear it, just as it is used in front of words such as store, market, cinema or "the movies".

Would British folk say "I am going to the store", or "I am going to store"? Based on Adamsargant's post, I'm guessing it would be the latter. Americans that I know would always use the former.

As an aside, Jane in your example with university, americans that I know would say "I went to college", they would never use the word "university" in the way you note (for whatever reason I am not certain). My explanation is that the word "college" here is used to mean the entire experience of attending a place of higher education. The term "university" is essentially only used when it is relaying the name of a specific institution (such as Princeton University, etc.). I would say that "university" here is used as part of a proper name almost entirely, whereas the word "college" is used as a generic term for higher education beyond high school.

I've rambled on as usual ;)
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Origins of the word

Post by ironknackers » Thu Dec 01, 2005 12:40 am

I'm Australian. We go to "the" hospital. Edit: I think we might mix this up the more I look at it. Aussie English is probably straddling UK and American but leaning more UK style.

The English tend toward "Put kettle on dear" *as I recall from a Monty Python scene. However, I have an expat buddy here (in Taiwan) who is a London barrister. He looked aghast when I mentioned problems with (the) word and I had to hike quite quickly to make my next point as he tried to escape up the mountain.

EDIT [EA] : * There's actually a reduced form of 'the' in this Northern dialect rendering. It's usually written thus:

"Put t'kettle on dear"

but pronounced rather with a glottal stop:

"Pu' kettle on dear"
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