Monday, October 9, 2017

Time to Have "the" Talk

The “State-by-State” news brief pictured at right was in the USA Today. Note I didn’t refer to the newspaper as The USA Today. For some papers, the is part of the official name, and in those instances, it must be capitalized and italicized. Otherwise it needs to be lowercased (unless it starts a sentence, of course) and set in a regular, or roman, font, if included at all.

The USA Today blurb mentions my local paper, to which I subscribe. That paper is the Connecticut Post. There is no the in its official name. Need proof? See below. Note the lack of the.

When I was in college, the local paper did have the in its name. I subscribed, therefore, to The Gainesville Sun, not the Gainesville Sun. Need proof? See below. Note the inclusion of the.

Sometimes the is right, then wrong, then right again. In the spring of 2014, a British daily founded in 1754 restored the after going nearly half a century without it. The Yorkshire Post dropped its article opener in 1968, only to witness the return of the following a 46-year hiatus. Why the change? As new editor Jeremy Clifford told Johnston Press:

“We are THE newspaper campaigning for Yorkshire. We set the agenda, identify the issues that concern the people of this region and ensure Yorkshire’s voice is heard. … Reintroducing the cements our position of being THE best place for news, sport, entertainment, culture, analysis, debate and campaigning. Those three letters set the standard by which we will continue to be THE national newspaper for Yorkshire.”

The. We give that ubiquitous function word little thought. Its official inclusion (or omission) may seem inconsequential, but accuracy is important. Do you read the New York Post or The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times or The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune or The Atlanta Journal-Constitution?

See the difference?

The makes a difference, and not only on a newspaper’s nameplate. Consider other mediums.

The Changeling came out in 1980, but Changeling didn’t hit theaters for another 28 years. Evil Dead premiered 32 years after The Evil Dead made its 1981 debut. A whopping 64 years separate The Killers (1946) and Killers (2010). Deep Blue Sea, a 1999 action movie about scientists battling sharks at a remote research facility, and The Deep Blue Sea, a 1955 British drama about infidelity, are oceans apart.

The Twilight Zone ran on CBS for five seasons, from 1959 to 1964, near the end of television’s “Golden Age.” No, wait. Twilight Zone aired during those five gold-specked seasons. No, no, wait. The truth is, The Twilight Zone ran for the first three seasons before crossing over into the Twilight Zone. For reasons as undefined as, yes, a twilight zone, the Rod Serling series dropped the when the fourth season began as a midseason replacement in January 1963 for Fair Exchange, the very show that had replaced The Twilight Zone on CBS’ 1962 fall schedule after the anthology series failed to secure a sponsor for a fourth season.

That Twilight Zone trim may have been the first example of television losing the, but it wasn’t the only one.

Discovery Channel, home to Shark Week, took a bite out of its name in 1995. Back then, the cable station was known as The Discovery Channel. The head honchos, however, figured that dropping the from the network’s name would help the company’s expansion as a multiplatform brand.

On March 20, 2008, The History Channel was history. In hopes of eroding its image as a stuffy network offering nothing more than World War II documentaries, the cable channel dropped the and channel from its name. According to executive vice president Nancy Dubuc, this, ahem, historic change was part of a multimedia rebranding effort. “We really look at this as more of an evolution,” Dubuc said. “People refer to us as History, and the listings refer to us as History, and everybody refers to us as History. So we really just wanted to keep the name in step where we were as a brand. And we really do see the brand as all things history, and this evolution embraces that.”

What popular website was launched in a Harvard dorm in 2004? Did you guess Facebook? You’re wrong, technically. When Mark Zuckerberg’s social networking site began, it was called Thefacebook, and it remained that way for a year, until the company purchased the domain name for a cool $200,000 and dropped its first three letters. My guess is that the world’s largest social network wanted to be known as Facebook all along, but a bit of domain squatting prevented it. If you believe what you see at the movies, Napster co-founder Sean Parker spurred the change. At the end of his first meeting with Zuckerberg, Parker, played by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, offered the following advice: “Drop the the. Just Facebook. It’s cleaner.”

Parker may have considered the a dirty word, so to speak, but its level of impurity must be measured on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes that definite article definitely should be dropped; sometimes it’s a keeper.

That’s the truth.

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