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Zer Netmouse
June 21st, 2004
11:02 pm


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dropping your "the"s
I just typed up a bunch of thoughts on the use or ommission of the word "the" before a noun (in this case, "he took me to hospital") as part of an email dialogue on liguistics and copyediting Emerald City. I thought I would share.

I might say "rush me to the local hospital" if I wanted to indicate a specific place, but being "in hospital" is a general condition entirely separate from which particular hospital you are in.

And thus one might use the general English construction, "being in a hospital" or otherwise the generic "a" instead of the specific "the" (though in the case of American usage, "the hospital" is generally taken to mean any hospital already). It does compare favorably to "being in bed" and "going to bed" just as in "going to jail" but it seems pernicious as a general trend. In a newspaper article I read recently, "the" was dropped in two cases, one of which was in reference to the city government. In Canada they don't use "the" in reference to Hospital or University, but on the other hand they do use it for freeway titles ("Take the 401 to Toronto" vs. our more common "Take I-75 to Toledo"). "I was up at University today." does seem weird when living in a town with two universities, I must say.

Bill was arguing that in the cases where dropping the "the" feels natural, there is also some implication of a verb within the noun. When you go to jail, you are also being jailed. We would say "we were going to the jail" if we were talking about a vist for some purpose other than to be incarcerated. Similarly "go to bed" means bedding down and (usually) going to sleep. There is an assumed verb that follows with the place. When a parent tells a child to go to bed, they don't mean "go upstairs and bounce on your bed while playing loud music or, usually, even "go read late into the night." They mean go to bed to sleep.

Go to market is another example. A market is a fairly simple place and you either go there to buy or sell things, one of which is implied in "we're going to market" (taking something to market leads to marketing it) - "we're going to school" also suggests that on arrival the speaker will be subject to some schooling. A parent would say "I went to the school today" when talking about another type of visit. It's an interesting theory, I think. And in this interpretation "I'm going to University today" might then make sense if the speaker is a student and University is considered synonymous with school.

As for a Hospital, well, it's complex, and there isn't anything you do at the hospital that uses some form of the word hospital as a verb, unless you stay there. Being hospitalized is a term we tend to reserve for an extended stay, and that's not what you meant.

(5 comments | Leave a comment)

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Date:June 22nd, 2004 05:58 am (UTC)
One odder construction: "going to town" is used even with no town involved! But then it's idiomatic. (I'm not even sure it works any more with an actual town...)
[User Picture]
Date:June 22nd, 2004 07:09 am (UTC)
On a related note, to "jail" someone, or "school" someone -- why do I hear people like David Newman complian about the verbing of innocent nouns like "impact" when this has already been so commonplace in a long-standing tradition? Is there any philosphical reason not to treat most noun as potential verbs or vice-versa?
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Date:June 22nd, 2004 10:24 am (UTC)
I found your journal through the Foxtrot feed. I glanced at this lj-cut and figured I'd say something about the "up at University" situation.

For Brits and Canadians, saying "I was up at University today" is the same as saying "I was at college over the weekend" for Americans. I suppose it could even be compared to "I went to school." All of the specific destinations are understood from the vague spoken description. Just my two cents...
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Date:June 22nd, 2004 04:12 pm (UTC)
Whatever it may be, to my mind the lack of an article implies some kind of indeterminacy.

My feeling, especially in light of Canadian and British usages like "in Government" (vs U.S. "in the Government"), is that it's appropriate when the object is of indeterminate (large?) size, or is otherwise nebulous (rather than definite). Perhaps implying plurality in the the noun, as in "Team Mazda are in first place" (vs U.S. "The Mazda team is in first place")? In either of those senses, the U.S. usage of a definite article would be out of place.

Bill's "verbish" argument makes some sense to me. I can see that it doesn't necessarily follow that the verb is implied within the noun (e.g. bed "to sleep"), that it could work with hospital "to be treated" or somesuch.

I keep thinking it has something to do with time; like verb tenses for simple past and pluperfect. You're going "to hospital" for an unknown interval?

This article makes me think it has something to do with the Dative case. When you go to college, you're really going to e.g. a class; when you go to hospital, you're really going to a doctor, or the emergency room, or to a lab. That doesn't address "in hospital", though, does it?

Regardless, my upbringing with American English makes "to/in hospital" sound awkward.

(Incidentally, the "Canadian" freeway naming scheme is also used in certain US regions, e.g. Californians drive "the 101" all the time. I think using the definite article there has more to do with contextualizing the number than with any sort of general usage difference. I've also heard it said that using "I-75", "US-12" and "M-14" is somehow peculiar to Michigan, where state and federal road numbering schemes can overlap.)
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Date:June 23rd, 2004 06:30 am (UTC)


Do Canadians use the verb "to hospitalize"?
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