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Speaking of "the" in odd places
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2012/04/07
7:57am
Bob Bridges
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Heimhenge just posted on “the calculus” and it reminded me of a question I used to have when taking French:  Why do they speak of “La France” and “Le Canada”?  If they did it all the time I’d just shrug and learn to do it, but no, it’s only for some countries, and there’s no discernible pattern so I just have to memorize them.  Who thought that up?

It finally occurred to me that we do it in English too; the problem is only that we do it with different countries.  We say “Canada” and “France”, but “the Hague”, “the Netherlands” and “the Vatican”.  I can see a justification for “the Netherlands”, and of course for terms like “the Soviet Union” and “the United States”, but not so much for “the Congo”.  I guess there’s nothing for it but to stop complaining and learn it.

2012/04/07
10:50am
Ron Draney
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We should prohibit using definite articles in place names with the United States, from Bronx to Angeles to Paso to Moines.

On a related topic, has anyone here heard of the Atlas of True Names? Seems some clever British publisher decided to put out maps that translate all the place names into English, so that Canada becomes “Land of Villages” and Mexico “Navel of the Moon”. I’ve often thought that the occasional attempt to make English the sole official language in Arizona should be answered with a list of names that would have to change: “Nogales” to “Walnuts”, “Tucson” to “Black Foothill”, and “Eloy” to “OMG!”

2012/04/07
12:49pm
New River, AZ, USA
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Ahhh … but then, since we changed Squaw Peak to Piestewa Peak, what would we change that to next?  :)

Getting to Bob’s comment, I think it’s hard to avoid the definite article when the country name is collective (United States, United Arab Emirates, Soviet Union, Netherlands, etc.) The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a puzzler.

But what you say about exceptions is a good point. I have no problem believing The Vatican is an example of that same affectation I hypothesized about calculus in another thread.

Clueless about The Hague though. Likewise The Bronx.

2013/04/20
8:56am
RobertB
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Still, why ‘The’ where no ‘The’ would do? Specifically, 
The Taj Mahal
The Vatican
The Hague
 
There could be reasons prior to established customs–  It seems some intellectuals at some point felt impatient at how the concept was not getting the level of renown it deserved, so ‘The’ is thrown in to instruct the ignorant plebeians what a significant concept it was, or just to magnify it to make oneself sound important.
 
(In the same vein but for sarcasm Mr. Donald Trump is called The Donald.)
 
2013/04/20
11:35am
New River, AZ, USA
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RobertB said: so ‘The’ is thrown in to instruct the ignorant plebeians what a significant concept it was, or just to magnify it to make oneself sound important.

And that’s what my original point was regarding “the calculus.” I know a lot of people who have taken calculus [Rant: I refuse to predicate calculus with "the"] and feel quite smug about their accomplishment. But calculus is routinely taught in high school these days, so how hard can it be? Granted, some of the calculus courses one can take in college are truly difficult to master, and success in those courses is a real reason for pride.

Still, I’ve never heard “the arithmetic” “the algebra” “the geometry” or “the trigonometry.”

Ngrams shows use of “the calculus” peaking around 1950 and declining since. That’s around the time of the Space Race between the US and USSR, when all STEM subjects were heavily promoted in schools. So perhaps that usage was an appeal and/or teaser to join the “elite” corps of scientists who understand calculus?

2013/04/20
1:55pm
RobertB
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That must be it, especially given that the other math disciplines are much more ancient, and thus more well understood by the public at large.
 
Then it seems ‘The’ was first prefixed to a concept to highlight its importance, perhaps because one felt compelled to educate the public of it, then over time it sticks to the name for good– No way to prove, nor though to better explain.
2013/04/20
3:20pm
tromboniator
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Heimhenge said
Still, I’ve never heard … “the algebra”…

If I’m not mistaken, “the” is “al”-ready included.

 

 

2013/04/20
5:36pm
New River, AZ, USA
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Yeah, “al” can mean that in some (Arabic) words, but methinks in this case it’s just part of a larger word. Not like I know Arabic, but see this:

http://etymonline.com/?term=algebra

2013/04/22
4:32am
tromboniator
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Well, Merriam-Webster says: “Medieval Latin, from Arabic al-jabr, literally, the reduction”.

2013/04/22
8:12am
New River, AZ, USA
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My source says “al jebr” is Arabic for “reunion of broken parts” so one of us is wrong. I don’t speak Arabic, but I have to stand by my favorite etymology source. Maybe some forum member who actually speaks the language would care to comment?

So how’d your trombone solo go at the concert? Is there a video of it posted anywhere?

2013/04/22
1:53pm
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I do not speak Arabic, but I have access to the Oxford English Dictionary. Here is the most relevant part of the etymology:

Etymology: < post-classical Latin algebraalgebraic computation (12th or 13th cent.), surgical treatment of fractures (c1300) < Arabic al-jabr< althe + jabrrestoration (of anything which is missing, lost, out of place, or lacking), reunion of broken parts, (hence specifically) surgical treatment of fractures < jabarato restore, to reunite, (hence specifically in a medical context) to set broken bones.
The Arabic term al-jabr probably originally referred specifically to the method of solving quadratic equations by completing the square. The term achieved currency through the title of the 9th-cent. mathematical treatise by al-ḴwārizmÄ«, al-kitāb al-muḵtaá¹£ar fÄ« ḥisāb al-jabr wal-muqābala ‘The Concise Book on Calculation by Restoration and Compensation’.

The ‘the’ in the c1300 description is dropped in the translation of the book title. I think it could have remained (i.e. ‘the Restoration’), but, if it did, this topic would have one more ‘the’ in an odd place.

Emmett

2013/04/22
3:04pm
New River, AZ, USA
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I of course defer to the OED and stand corrected. A “the” would make perfect sense in front of “reunion of broken parts.” Thanks Emmett.

 

2013/04/22
9:34pm
Robert
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But if the Arab scholars meant for Reunion to be a discipline of study, then the quandary is the same : why did ancient Arabs put al there? Back to square one, only closer to the Big Bang.

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