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!
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