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The Approaching-Ubiquitous “The”

At some vague point in the past few years, someone, somewhere decreed that when writing about an individual and his/her vocation, it would henceforth be necessary to affix “the” before the vocation. For example, “The blues guitarist, BB King.” Or “The mystery writer Clive Cussler.” How come and for what possible purpose? It’s been common parlance forever to simply say “Architect Frank Lloyd Wright,” or “Writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau.” Faster, cleaner and much more listenable -- the creeping “The” is especially jarring when read aloud. Checked the NY Times and AP Stylebooks for it and there’s no mention. Anyone?

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Copy Dog,
I guess you first should clarify what you mean by “faster, cleaner and much more listenable [sic]”. These words are not grammatical terms and do not count when discussing grammar. If you know what is the function of the definite article, then you may easily see that you can’t say “guitarist, BB King” because that would combine an indefinite noun (guitarist) with a definite one (BB King) which would be contradiction in term. Because a noun in a sentence could either be definite or indefinite. It couldn’t be both.

goossun January 18, 2005, 9:38am

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Copy Dog:

I honestly had not even noticed the phenomenon until this very minute, when I read your post. I tried saying some similar phrases to myself, but I don't have any preference for one way or the other. They sound equally correct to me.

I think it should be noted that you need to be a bit careful with nouns used as adjectives. The following examples are all correct:

"The poet wrote elegies."
"Poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote the Duino Elegies."
"The poet Rainer Maria Rilke and the composer Frederic Chopin both wrote beautiful elegies."
"In this essay about Romantic elegies, I am going to use as examples the works of a famous poet and a familiar composer. The poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, wrote the Duino Elegies in German. The composer, Frederic Chopin, took as his inspiration a Polish folk song form called the 'dumka' (elegy)."

speedwell2 January 18, 2005, 10:04am

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You should be careful that "poet Rilke" and "the poet, Rilke" (note the comma) are not grammatically the same.

goossun January 18, 2005, 10:30am

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I agree with goossun that they're different and with speedwell that in most cases interchangable.
I don't think it has anything to do with a ubiquitous "The" thankfully. However, ubiquitous "The" has appeared in hacker speak - e.g. teh[sic] l33t

IngisKahn January 18, 2005, 12:15pm

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That's true, goossun. I didn't elaborate (it seemed a bit off-topic), but "Poet Rainer Maria Rilke" uses "poet" as an adjective, sort of like a title. So would "the poet Rilke," in a way. If you deleted the name of the poet from the sentence in either case, the sentence would not make any sense (i.e. "Poet wrote the Duino Elegies.").

"The poet, Rainer Maria Rilke,..." introduces the name of the poet as a parenthetical expression. The sentence would be complete even if I had not added the poet's name ("The poet wrote the Duino Elegies in German.").

speedwell2 January 18, 2005, 12:31pm

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But you will undoubtedly notice it the first time you as a Yank hear a BBC presenter mention that someone has been "taken to hospital", instead of the 'normal' American way of 'the pedestrian was taken to the hospital'.

Wren January 19, 2005, 2:37am

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Another interesting example is shown in this excerpt from the (presumably ancient Scottish) poem "Hardyknute":

"To horse, to horse, my royal liege,
Your faes stand on the strand,
Full twenty thousand glittering spears
The King of Norse commands."

The closest American equivalent I can think of would be something like, "Let's ride." We wouldn't say, "To the horse, to the horse...."

speedwell2 January 19, 2005, 5:53am

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I think Wren's comment and Speedwell's last are interesting, but slightly different than the original issue. "To horse" and "to hospital", to me at least, suggest moving from one state to another more than moving to a particular object. One goes from being unhorsed to being horsed, and from being unhospitalized to being hospitalized. No specific horse or hospital is mentioned, although in many cases one might imagine there is a particular instance available. The King, presumably, will ride his own horse, and not someone else's. Nevertheless I think the phrase "to horse" does not intend to convey any information about which horse the King will mount.

joachim January 29, 2005, 7:37am

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