Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

SOMEONE asked at a party, `Are you the Dot Wordsworth?' I am sure they meant it kindly; but I am not sure of the answer. I have never met another D.W. But perhaps the definite article does not denote uniqueness.

And now a reader, Mr Michael Connor, from Hobart, has written to point out that in the film Titanic, which he did not like, everyone refers to the ship as Titanic without the definite article. `The actors say, "Back to Titanic," for example, when Kenneth More, in another film, would have said, "I'm first mate on the Titanic."'

Doubtless Titanic is the correct naval way to refer to the ship, but it is not the way most of us speak of ships. Did Lord Haw-Haw say, `The Ark Royal has been sunk'? I am too young to remember, but I suspect he did.

A similar thing applies to countries. Most of us talk about the Ukraine; only newspapers and learned books say Ukraine without the the. Old-fashioned speakers usually say the Lebanon. Contrariwise The Gambia includes the definite article as part of its name (taken from the river).

I was quite unable to answer a foreigner when she asked me when we use the definite article with the names of streets. It is certainly the Old Kent Road. …

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