Tag Archives: language

an open letter to the definite article

Dear The:

We’ve been friendly for a long time, through thick and thin: from little phrases like the one I’m writing now to showstoppers like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Lately, though, I’ve noticed that you’re getting kind of pretentious. I see you turning up all over the place with an initial capital in sentences like:

At The Ohio State University, The Beatles gave a great concert, reports The New York Times.

So what’s going on, pal? In the old days, we had a nice, simple agreement—and I’m quoting here from our mutual ally, The Chicago Manual of Style, 13th edition, section 7.57, fn 15—”The word the at the beginning of [institutional and corporate] titles is capitalized only when the official corporate name of the institution is called for,” as when the name follows the copyright symbol. Similarly (7.131), “when newpapers and periodicals are mentioned in the text, an initial The … is set in roman type and, unless it begins a sentence, is lowercased.” And a lot of other style guides agree: The only time that the ordinarily gets capitalized at the beginning of a name or a title is when an artwork or book is in question: The Old Curiosity Shop. There are a few odd exceptions like The Hague, and some artists would like us to make an exception for band names, too, but I don’t see any reason to treat bands differently from newspapers, corporations, or symphony orchestras. Ask yourself: do you really want to spend brain juice trying to remember—or waste time looking up—whether it’s The Cure and the Rolling Stones or the Cure and The Rolling Stones?

The general rule is easy to remember and easy to understand: Except at the beginning of a sentence or the title of an artwork, don’t capitalize the. When in doubt, don’t capitalize the. When you suspect that a capitalized The is part of a larger pattern of public relations hyperbole and relentless self-promotion, don’t capitalize the.

Basically: the definite article is informationally undistinguished, so treat it accordingly.

Please understand that I’m not hating on you, my old friend, but rather on those who are trying to twist you into something you were never intended to be, a major player in the information hierarchy. All you do when you inflate yourself is annoy the living daylights out of people like me. It’s not just that we mock the silly appearance of sentences like the example I gave above, it’s that we fear it portends a future that looks like this:

She Told Us That She Reads The New York Times and Wants to Get Everyone Else on Board.

Because if the gets promoted to The in all those uses, then the next thing you know, ordinary nouns, pronouns, and verbs are going to want a bump, too, and then adjectives and adverbs will demand their fair share, and then the longer prepositions will go out on strike, and before you know it we’ll find ourselves Back in the 17th Century When It Comes to Capitalization.

I mean, really, who opened the door on this?

I find myself wondering whether all this Theification is partly a defensive reaction against another style that has been gaining ground in recent years: sentence case, or the habit of capitalizing only the first word in a title. In this approach, for example, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly becomes The good, the bad, and the ugly. Now, in one way sentence case gives you an advantage, my friend, because The is a common titular first word, so you would often find yourself the sole word sporting a capital letter in any given title. On the other hand, as far as I can tell it’s not being applied to  names; I’m not seeing sentences beginning “Today the new york times reported…” I don’t love sentence case myself—though I do think it’s preferable to junking up titles with The this and The that—and at the moment it doesn’t look like it’s going to become the primary capitalization style for absolutely everything. Meanwhile, as possibly the last holdout for lower-casing the as a general principle—well, all I can say is that I’m contemplating taking a hint from Russia and boycotting the definite article. After all, if I don’t use it, I can’t be pressured to capitalize it.

Truly, I prefer meaning shift resulting from lost definite article to ridiculous spread of over-capitalization under thin facade of accuracy. Da!

Please don’t hold it against me if it turns out we just can’t see each other as much in future.

Demonstratively yours,

A theophile





Posted in 2014, latest | Also tagged |

first anniversary

word cloud, genreated July 2011

second word cloud, July 2011

This blog is now a year old. When I started it last summer, I wasn’t sure I’d make it this far. But now that I have, I intend to keep going.

Early on, I wrote a post in which I offered a ‘word cloud’ generated from a bunch of old texts, with the idea of giving a visual impression of my general interests. The unstated implication was that it might also give an idea of what territory the blog could be expected to explore. That first word cloud  (shown below right) led off with ‘performance’ and roamed around through technology, role play, media, forgery, identity, narrative and a bunch of other subjects that were related, at least in my own mind.

word cloud 1

first word cloud, July 2010

I wrote then that I planned to generate a new word cloud after the blog had been up for a year, so I offer it here (above left), as promised. Like the first one, it was created by uploading a slew of texts—in this case, blog texts—to wordle.net, which presumably runs some kind of frequency alogorithm in order to generate the resulting image.

The differences are pretty obvious: much more of an emphasis on the working life of an artist (materials, book, camera, design, show…) and much less on performance and the net ( impersonation, improvisation, avatars, online…). I’m a little surprised that the word ‘technology’ has disappeared from the cloud, since I think I’ve talked about the technologies of art in quite a lot of my posts. Perhaps I’ve been focusing more on the specifics of technologies and less on technology as a general subject.

And I’m certain this word cloud reflects the blog’s general tendencies better than a snapshot of the most-used tags (below left). Useful though tags are, they are highly subject to my whims and assumptions. When I remember to use them at all (!), I tend to focus on two things: (1) terms that I think visitors might search for if they were trying to find ‘that post on X’, and (2) terms that might usefully help with Google page rankings. The operate phrase there is “I think” since I could easily be wrong on both counts.

blog tags, July 2011

blog tags, July 2011

The most puzzling aspect of the new cloud, of course, is the keyword ‘one’, crowned as pre-eminent by wordle’s algorithm. One what? Have I been using the third-person singular neutral pronoun more than I thought? Starting too many sentences off with “One day…”? (One sits scratching one’s head and wondering if one day it will all become clear.)

What I like most about the new cloud is this: that the three most prominent words, taken as a phrase (and overlooking the small matter of punctuation), amount to a concise statement of the blog’s central subject and reason for existing: one artist’s work. I’ll take that as a good sign for the second year.


Posted in 2011, latest | Also tagged , , |

word cloud

generated word cloud

The word cloud on the front page of my blog here was generated over on wordle.net by pasting in a selection of  texts from my main website, forger.com. It gives a pretty good idea of my general interests as an artist and writer for the last decade or so, although there are some oddities (police? man?). With this blog, I’m planning to look further back, posting about work I did in the ’80s and ’90s, some of which has never seen the light of day outside my studio—the downside of being kind of reclusive. So in a year or so I plan to generate another cloud for comparison.

Edit, 10-20-10: Now that I have a good amount of work up on my site, I’ve decided to take the word cloud off the front page and instead have an image from my archive. I still plan to make the comparison word cloud for the first-year anniversary of the blog, though.

Posted in 2010, latest | Also tagged |