The, most powerful word in the English language

The, most powerful word in the English language

No, that comma in the headline is not out of place. In the British Broadcasting Corporation's (BBC) weekly newsletter, ""The Essential List: This week's best stories," the subject line caught my eye immediately: "The most powerful word in the English language."

Seriously, folks, you know I needed to read that.

It turns out that "the" is the most powerful word -- thus the comma in my headline.

You can read the whole story at the link above, but what follows are some of my thoughts on the highlights:

In the Jan. 10, 2020 story, Hélène Schumacher writes that "‘the’ lies at the heart of English grammar, having a function rather than a meaning. ... Helping us understand what is being referred to, ‘the’ makes sense of nouns as a subject or an object. So even someone with a rudimentary grasp of English can tell the difference between ‘I ate an apple’ and ‘I ate the apple’."

She adds, "There are many exceptions regarding the use of the definite article, for example in relation to proper nouns. We wouldn’t expect someone to say ‘the Jonathan’ but it’s not incorrect to say ‘you’re not the Jonathan I thought you were’. And a football commentator might deliberately create a generic vibe by saying, ‘you’ve got the Lampards in midfield’ to mean players like Lampard."

(Remember, this is a BBC story... "the" and a man's first name does bring the president to mind, at least for me. But to follow the point, the expression "the Donald" was popularized by a former Mrs. Trump whose first language was not English.)

"‘The’ can even have philosophical implications," Schumacher writes. "The Austrian philosopher Alexius Meinong said a denoting phrase like ‘the round square’ introduced that object; there was now such a thing."

Oh, the idea!

Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook.

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Comments

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  • 1. Not in Chicago or Northwest Indiana. Sort of like the implication of your penultimate paragraph, although we can argue about Mayor Richard J. Daley's native language.
    2. Powerful is the most powerful word.
    3. On the original linked article's point that most languages don't have an equivalent word, but just an affix, the author left out German's der, die, and das, which constitute 3 times the same word. French and Spanish appear similar. Also, in Hebrew, "ha" is before the word, but maybe the author didn't know that Hebrew is read right to left.
    4. That author may have similarly missed the German roots noted above.
    5. On maybe a more Weather Girl note, I have noted that the most frequent word used in a weather forecast is "yeah," but usually in the context of someone throwing it over to the meteorologist.[Cheryl: "It's going to snow tonight, Cheryl?" Cheryl: "Yeah."]

  • In reply to jack:

    I have to disagree with your second point. The most powerful word in the English language is 'powerfulest'.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    I wasn't aware of powerfulest, but most sources indicate that it is a word, so I'll defer to you. Note, however, that the BBC didn't use it, and in the sense that I used it, no word is more powerful than powerful.

  • In reply to jack:

    I'll just comment off to the side on this learned discussion by wondering whether any word can be used to describe its own power.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    I was thinking something like kilowatt, but usually it requires some quantitative precedent, as a heck of a lot more kilowatts are generated by the 765Kv transmission lines on distribution towers than a 1.5 v battery. Horsepower is similar.

    Skunk may work, at least on the olfactories.

  • In reply to jack:

    Thank you for your thorough analysis, Jack. I can always count on you. I must argue slightly with 3 and 4; I would say they're fractions of English's powerful "the.'

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    In a sense. It's a question of additive force versus slices of the pie. According to this article, the chorizo is sliced even thinner.

  • Let's tip our hats to article 'the'
    It's definitely more than 'a'.

    It doesn't change before a vowel
    And clearer are the things that follow.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    "The" lets us talk without gender of nouns
    Which cause so many worries and frowns.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    Well done, jnorto -- and these days, it's a handy point.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Hat tipped -- and caught, in this wind. Thank you.

  • It's darn surprising that some Nigerian spambot thinks that chicagonow is a good place to transact fraudulent business. Maybe it mistook this for The Barbershop.

  • In reply to jack:

    Fame at last. Removing spam now.

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