A Loss for Words

For better or worse, Ukraine doesn’t want English speakers using its definite article; evidently the “the” is viewed as a vestige of Soviet imperialism. Why it should matter to a country whose language has no articles, definite or otherwise, is a separate question. For the time being, polite geopolitics require calling it “Ukraine.”

Crimea has lost its definite article too — probably a case of politic politics gone too far; Cornell government professor Thomas Pepinsky says he “cannot find a good reason why it would be less offensive to say Crimea than the Crimea.” But as with Crimea’s membership in Ukraine, this ship appears to have sailed.

What’s more worrying is the war on definite articles raging in the news media. These days it’s not uncommon to hear an evening anchor talk about “CIA” instead of “the CIA.” And it’s awful: “Here’s a report from Central Intelligence Agency.” You might as well say “There’s a surfer in Atlantic Ocean.”

Articles are being dropped so that nouns can be names instead of titles. This lets reporters sound intimate with their subjects, as someone sounds intimate with the president when he refers not to “the President” but rather to “George” or “Bill” or “Barry.” Talking about simply “NSA” or “EPA” gives bulletins an extra jargony feel, and everyone loves using jargon. It makes us sound like experts.

But it’s starting to get out of hand. The other day, a news anchor referred to “ACLU” and “Keystone Pipeline,” no articles in sight. Where will it end? With Yankees games in “Bronx”? With votes in “House of Representatives”? Will our letters be delivered by parcel-carrying superhero “Mailman”?

It’s time to draw a line in the sand. Or else fly to the Netherlands and visit The Hague while you still can.

Josh Gelernter — Josh Gelernter is a weekly columnist for NRO, and a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.

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