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It's a parking lot on the southbound 101 this morning
February 28, 2006 6:04 PM   Subscribe

Why do people in Los Angeles usually refer to their numbered highways with "the" (for example, US 101 is "the one-oh-one")?

Perhaps this is done in other regions as well, but as far as I know it seems to be specific to Los Angeles. According to Wikipedia, US 101 is just called "one-oh-one" in Northern California and Oregon. Another article also notes a linguistic divide between Northern and Southern California in this regard.

In my hometown of Richmond, VA, when we colloquially refer to our major interstates and arterial highways (I-95, I-64, I-295, US 1, US 301, US 360, etc.) we do so without using "the" (so just "Ninety-five" or "Eye-ninety-five"). We also have named highways that also have numbers, like Chippenham Parkway (Rt. 150). (Interestingly we don't refer to it with "the".) (I'm aware that in many places, especially in LA, they use the names of highways more often. E.g. "The Santa Monica Freeway" is used in conversation, not just in official documents.)

Is this specific just to LA? Is it done in other regions? How do you refer to numbered (or named and numbered) highways where you live?
posted by armage to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, LA (117 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't have an answer, but it's the same in Canada, or at least here in Ontario.
posted by Robot Johnny at 6:10 PM on February 28, 2006


Because they are travelling on something not at it.
posted by omidius at 6:10 PM on February 28, 2006


Liken it to driving on the road, not at the road. Surfing on the internet, not at the internet, et cetera.
posted by omidius at 6:11 PM on February 28, 2006


Oh, and it's not just numbered highways here, such as the 401 (four-oh-one), but, for example Queen Elizabeth Way is the Q.E.W. and the Don Valley Parkway is the D.V.P.
posted by Robot Johnny at 6:12 PM on February 28, 2006


I've lived all over the U.S., and CA is the first place I've lived where people refer to it as "The 15" instead of "I-15." It's not just L.A. It extends throughout SoCal, at least (I don't know about NorCal, but I suspect it's that way there, too). Chalk it up to regional dialect, I guess.

What I always wanted to know is why, in MD/DC/VA, when giving a phone number, people will say "call me back on (202) ###-####," instead of "at" the number. Bizarre.
posted by JekPorkins at 6:18 PM on February 28, 2006


I disagree about the norcal/socal distinction -- when I lived in SF last summer, it was always "the 280" and "the 101", an observation which I just confirmed with one of my friends who's lived in the bay area long-term. Perhaps farther north it changes, but not until... like, Oregon.

Anyway, I don't think there's any good reason, it's just a local convention. Interestingly, growing up in Michigan, we had "Eye 94" and "Eye 69", but "The Lodge" (state highway 10, in Detroit). There, things with names get definite articles, things with numbers do not. I can't explain why.
posted by rkent at 6:18 PM on February 28, 2006


I was born in SoCal and now live in NorCal, and the people look at me funny when I say the 101. It's just a SoCal thing.
posted by team lowkey at 6:20 PM on February 28, 2006


After accidental non-preview, I'd say it has leaked up into SF quite a bit, but it's not the norm.
posted by team lowkey at 6:22 PM on February 28, 2006


omidius: "Liken it to driving on the road, not at the road. Surfing on the internet, not at the internet, et cetera."

I may be missing something, but I'm not sure I understand what you're saying. Who ever says "I'm driving at I-95"?
posted by rafter at 6:23 PM on February 28, 2006


What? When I was in the bay area, I said "the 101" and "the 280" about 95% of the time. And so did everyone else. Perhaps my sample size was limited, but, like most places in the West, the bay area didn't seem to have a strong nativist contigent - and, therefore, no one to get uppity about local vernacular.
posted by mullacc at 6:24 PM on February 28, 2006


omidius: Because they are travelling on something not at it.

But if I were giving directions, I could say, "Get on I-95 for about five miles, then take the Colonial Heights exit." We definitely don't use "at" where I'm from.

JekPorkins: What I always wanted to know is why, in MD/DC/VA, when giving a phone number, people will say "call me back on (202) ###-####," instead of "at" the number. Bizarre.

Good question -- I've lived in DC as well, but I've never heard that before. Personally I've always used "at."
posted by armage at 6:24 PM on February 28, 2006


Third-gen Northern Californian here, seconding rkent. We say "the 101" or "101" interchangeably. No funny looks. When I lived down in "the Southland", it didn't matter either.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 6:24 PM on February 28, 2006


Everyone I know in the Bay Area says "the". Everyone I know in LA doesn't. Wikipedia's mileage seems to vary.

I grew up in Phoenix and you drive on The Superstition Freeway, The Squaw Peak Parkway, The 101 Loop, the I-10 and the I-17 (or the 10 and the 17, if you prefer), etc. They're big on naming freeways there (and I think that actually, the Squaw Peak is now The Someone Who Died In The War Parkway).
posted by padraigin at 6:25 PM on February 28, 2006


Mullacc, I have the exact opposite experience, and I live in Bay Area. I say "101" and "280" sans "the" about 95% of the time, and so does everyone around me.

(I guess that basically supports the rest of your post.)
posted by Pontius Pilate at 6:26 PM on February 28, 2006


the bay area didn't seem to have a strong nativist contigent - and, therefore, no one to get uppity about local vernacular.

posted by mullacc


Ha. Try calling it Frisco sometime.
posted by padraigin at 6:26 PM on February 28, 2006


What the hell is up with all the contradiction in this thread? I grew up and went to college in Phoenix (and put a ton of mileage on my car) and I'm not even sure which freeways are called Superstitution Freeway and the Squaw Peak Parkway. Is it the 51 and the 60?
posted by mullacc at 6:28 PM on February 28, 2006


This thread has suddenly become hilarious.

(and yeah, the Superstition is the 60 and the Squaw Peak is the 51. Go Devils!)
posted by padraigin at 6:30 PM on February 28, 2006


er, 60 = Superstition and 51 = Squaq Peak would be my guess....only because I know where those two geographical features are located.
posted by mullacc at 6:31 PM on February 28, 2006


Same thing in Chicago: The Kennedy, The Eisenhower, The Dan Ryan, etc. But numbered roads are always spoken like "I-57" or "Route 30", never with "the".
posted by xil at 6:31 PM on February 28, 2006


P.S. I just updated the wikipedia article on the 101 in case you follow armage's link and get confused.
posted by rkent at 6:31 PM on February 28, 2006


(Thanks for the notification, rkent.)

Yeah, I'm thinking this is not going to have one specific answer -- I'm really just interested in the regional variations. Can folks give some more examples from outside of California?
posted by armage at 6:32 PM on February 28, 2006


I always wondered the same thing. I've lived in PA and MD, and always refered to highways just like armage, "95", "76", "1", etc.

As far as named highways in the DC area go, some numbered highways use "the", for example, the BW Parkway (MD 295) and the Beltway (495).

JekPorkins - FWIW, I lived in MD for eight years and I never found an answer for the "call me back on #" expression.
posted by Fat Guy at 6:32 PM on February 28, 2006


Heh, thanks, padraign. I guess I don't care what you call those freeways, just so long as you say "the" first, goddamnit.

And, yes, Go Devils!
posted by mullacc at 6:34 PM on February 28, 2006


On (utterly negligent failure to) preview, I did change the wikipedia article, though in light of some of the posts here I'm not sure if I should call it "an update" or "graffiti." But I'm leavin' it -- it's at least common to refer to roads with definite articles in the SF bay area, though I might concede that it doesn't quite rise to the level of a "norm."

This thread has suddenly become hilarious.

Indeed.
posted by rkent at 6:35 PM on February 28, 2006


When I moved from Texas to LA, I thought it was strange how everyone called the freeways "the" XXX. We always called it "eye-forty-five" or just "59." Now that I've lived here about 5 years, I call highway 101 "the 101" just like everyone else. I adjust my language when I visit Texas.
posted by kamikazegopher at 6:36 PM on February 28, 2006


Perhaps farther north it changes, but not until... like, Oregon.

The only place I ever lived on the west coast was Eugene. And they call the interstate "the 5" there, probably because it's the main drag. Or maybe the people I associated with somehow connected with LA. I've never known 101 to have the definitive article bestowed upon it, but then it's just a 2-lane coastal road that far north.

The other distinction I've heard is that west coasters call their numbered roads "highway" (as in highway 101 in Oregon) while east coasters call them "route" (as in route 9 in NY state).
posted by A dead Quaker at 6:37 PM on February 28, 2006


I have a friend from Arizona who insists on the "the" prefix for highways.

The "on" prefix on phone numbers always seemed like a European thing to do. In British media, I've heard/seen "Call us on (phone number)". Same in french, you use "sur" not "a," as far as I know. I'd never encountered it in the US, though.
posted by heresiarch at 6:39 PM on February 28, 2006


When I lived in Chicago, I can't remember if we used to call the numbered highways "the 94" or "I-94" --- though I lean towards recalling at as "I-94" -- but I do recall that when using the name (rather than the number), "the" was always used -- e.g., "The Dan Ryan" "The Eisenhower" (or even "The Ike"), "The Kennedy."
posted by scody at 6:39 PM on February 28, 2006


I grew up in SoCal and still say it about every freeway, even the ones up here in Oregon. I think it has to do with Southern California culture -- you're in your car (stuck in traffic) for so long that a freeway is sort of a destination. I knew when I was driving from Riverside to LA, I was going to be "on the 10 for a few hours."

If freeways were fast and simply used for short transport, I don't think people would elevate them to "the" levels and make them into places in SoCal.
posted by mathowie at 6:39 PM on February 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


I adjust my language when I visit Texas.

Interestingly, it never occurs to me to change uses when I move around -- I-94 in Michigan is just I-94, I-90 in Boston is The Pike, US-101 in California is The 101, and I would never call these roads anything different if I were to move.
posted by rkent at 6:40 PM on February 28, 2006


99% of the residents of the Puget Sound area say I-5, I-405, I-90, 167, 18, etc.

No "the" spoken prior, thanks.

I'm glad someone asked this question because "the 5" just sounds weird.

I smell an idea for a soda/coke/pop chart...
posted by ryanhealy at 6:46 PM on February 28, 2006


I am from New England and I am going to start saying "the 495" and "the 128" because it sounds really funny.
posted by theredpen at 6:52 PM on February 28, 2006


I am from New England and I am going to start saying "the 495" and "the 128" because it sounds really funny.

Not as funny as it would sound if you started calling Route 128 "I-95"... that's one convention I've never understood about this place.
posted by rkent at 6:57 PM on February 28, 2006


Expanding on the Ontario situation: only big, multilane highways get "the". The 401, the 417, the QEW, the Queensway. But you don't take "the 2" or "the 45", you take Highway 2 or Highway 45. The only exception I can think of for smaller highways is Highway 7, which is just "7". "Are you going to take the 401 back to Ottawa? Naw, I'm going to go up 7."
posted by mendel at 7:04 PM on February 28, 2006


I grew up in Northern Virginia and I've lived in San Francisco for 11 years. When I lived in the DC area, it was most common to say "123," "95," "395," etc., and I never heard anyone there say "call me back on" whatever. That seems more British than East Coast to me.

Most of the people I know in the Bay Area don't say "the 280," they just say "280." Although, to me, I-5 is always Interstate 5.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:06 PM on February 28, 2006


and I recall when a old guy would have pains from what is now called arthritis but back then would be referred to as The Lumbago, which sounds like some sort of dance from South America. And some of us waited on line while other waited in line. But I lived in Jersey and went to work in New York and then home not to New Jersey but simply to Jersey. I guess natives are, well, not like the rest of us.
posted by Postroad at 7:06 PM on February 28, 2006


I smell an idea for a soda/coke/pop chart...

Mission accomplished.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:07 PM on February 28, 2006


One thing SoCal also has is a wealth of alternate names. The 5 is the Santa Ana Freeway or the Golden State Freeway. The 405 is the San Diego Freeway, even though it doesn't go to San Diego. etc, etc.

Didn't see that in Seattle, which has both a 5 and a 405 of its own.
posted by frogan at 7:13 PM on February 28, 2006


I think he meant a chart like the soda/pop one to track use of "the" as in "the 405". That being the topic of this thread, after all. :)

As ryanhealy said, the Puget Sound usage is to not say "the" -- if you do, we know you're from California.

A few years ago I heard a new traffic guy on the radio. It was his first day, and he must have been from California, because he kept saying "the 5"... "the 405"... etc. Then on his second day, that was gone and he was saying "I-5" like a proper Seattleite. I think someone must have had a little talk with him...
posted by litlnemo at 7:15 PM on February 28, 2006


frogan, that is actually my theory for the use of "the" in SoCal. They got used to saying things like "The Santa Ana" and "The San Diego Freeway" so it carried over to the numeric freeway names.
posted by litlnemo at 7:17 PM on February 28, 2006


The only place I ever lived on the west coast was Eugene. And they call the interstate "the 5" there, probably because it's the main drag. Or maybe the people I associated with somehow connected with LA.

I think maybe you associated with Californians. People in Eugene (and most of the rest of Oregon) don't use "the" when talking about freeways and highways. The transplanted Californians do, but not the natives. I had never heard it until I visited my (soon-to-be-)wife's family in San Bernardino during college. I didn't know what to make of it at first.

My wife's sister recently moved to Oregon. She seems blissfully ignorant that she gives away her California-ness every time she talks about "the five" or "the two-oh-five". It's charming and annoying at the same time!

On a related topic: why is it that some people call highways "freeways"? (By highway I mean a major road without many stoplights that nevertheless has no exit ramps and onramps. To me, a freeway has no lights of any kind and lots of onramps and offramps.)
posted by jdroth at 7:22 PM on February 28, 2006


When I lived in Missouri, where I grew up, a guy moved there from California and got a job where I worked. He called the local highways "the six", "the eleven", "the sixty-three", etc. It sounded really strange to all of us natives.

Having lived in northeast Missouri, St Louis, and now central Colorado, I can report that I've not experienced any natives in any of these places using a preceding "the" for highways. (Although in St Louis you're liable to hear "farty-far" for 44.)
posted by attercoppe at 7:29 PM on February 28, 2006


I am from New England and I am going to start saying "the 495" and "the 128" because it sounds really funny.

That really does sound hilarious to this Masshole as well. Generally we say "Route 128" and "Route 495" or just use the numbers as shorthand, NEVER "the" with numbers, except when using the "names" of roads -- "the Expressway" or "the Pike". Same thing when I lived in Vermont and NH. I always thought it was amusing that in Vermont, Route 89 was often referred to as "the Interstate", as if it was the only one.

Now I gotta go 'cause me, Sully and Joey ah gonna take "the 1" up to Reveah.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:29 PM on February 28, 2006


In my Oregon experience, I-5 is more often called 'high-5" than "the five" - although that may be my wanton past speaking.
posted by cairnish at 7:30 PM on February 28, 2006


that is actually my theory for the use of "the" in SoCal. They got used to saying things like "The Santa Ana" and "The San Diego Freeway" so it carried over to the numeric freeway names.

I'd buy that. Sounds plausible.

why is it that some people call highways "freeways"?

To designate them as being different from toll highways? That's my theory.
posted by frogan at 7:30 PM on February 28, 2006


I took the 60 to the 101 to get to Chandler Fashion Square tonight.

I'm from NJ originally, live in AZ now. And I call it the 60. Instead of that Superstition Freeway or any of those stupid names. And it's not Squaw Peak anymore, it's Piestewa Peak (or something spelled similar) after that only Native American chick in Iraq who died.

Our 101 is technically "Loop 101" and the 60 is technically "US 60," and the 10 is the same I-10 as California's, but most people I've spoken to shorten it to the number.

Could it be that you just sound too technical referring to them with their proper prefixes?
posted by disillusioned at 7:30 PM on February 28, 2006


I don't get everyone who just uses numbers with a preceding "the." How do you give directions?

Get on 96 and take it until you hit 101, then go east and get off at the Cornwall exit onto 7.

Maybe this is just one of those quirks, like how people who are used to prefacing everything with "that" suddenly feel weird when they're told to drop it.
posted by chrominance at 7:37 PM on February 28, 2006


jdroth -
My very native Oregonian neighbors (5 generations, my ancestors came on the Trail, blah de blah, you know the type) say "The five" as do my lesser Oregon native neighbors (only 4 generations). So not everyone who says it is a Californian invader. heh.

To me, Freeway is a California term, since growing up in the East, we didn't have freeways, we had parkways.
posted by madajb at 7:37 PM on February 28, 2006


I had no idea this was a regionalism until I got to college (in Chicago) and met people from Northern California. I'm from Los Angeles and have always used "the." Saying simply "101" just sounds weird, like something is scratching at my brain. AAAHHH!!

I also refer to all interstates as "freeways," except, of course, the Pacific Coast Highway, as its name implies. But usually I just call it "the 1." Why? Because everyone else does, obviously.
posted by granted at 7:40 PM on February 28, 2006


21-year Sacramento resident, 6 year bay area resident -- i've definitely never said "the 80", but I think I would use "the 101" or "101" interchangeably. Don't think I've ever said "the 580", or "the 880".

HOWEVER, if i was giving someone directions, I would NEVER say "take THE 101", I'd say "take 101", often followed with a direction*. If I was saying something ABOUT the freeway, I'd probably use the -- like, as in "i hate the fucking 101".

* Do you LA guys ever give a direction to take a freeway in? Maybe that's why you say "the".
posted by fishfucker at 7:41 PM on February 28, 2006


Oops, insert "around" between "from" and "Los Angeles." I don't want to look like a poseur. I'm actually from Oxnard...
posted by granted at 7:42 PM on February 28, 2006


Get on 96 North and take it until you hit the 101, then go east and get off at the Cornwall exit onto Highway 7.

Haha regional accents are funny. Some guy from Boston made fun of my California accent for 20 minutes last time I was in Massachusetts.
posted by muddgirl at 7:44 PM on February 28, 2006


I'm a sixth-generation Californian, born and raised in the Bay Area and now living in Los Angeles. Even when I lived in San Francisco, though, I used to say "the 101" or "the 580" and I continue to do that in Los Angeles.

Still, I'm probably an exception since my own parents (both fifth-generation themselves and still living in the Bay Area) say "Hwy 101" or "I-5". Despite my own usage, I do agree that there's a Norcal vs. Socal distinction here and it's simply a regional difference, nothing more.

On a side note, regarding the SoCal freeway names (San Bernardino Freeway, Santa Ana Freeway, etc.), I've often thought about and occasionally tried to use (mostly just to be silly since I knew I'd get funny looks, and I did) similar names for Bay Area freeways....

Thus, the 580 west is the San Rafael Freeway and the 580 east is the Livemore Freeway. The 80 west is the San Francisco Freeway and the 80 east is the Sacramento Freeway. The 101 north is the Santa Rosa Freeway and the 101 south is the Gilroy Freeway. The 37 west is the Novato Freeway and the 37 east is the Vallejo Freeway. Et cetera, et cetera.

It just hasn't caught on yet! :-)
posted by stst399 at 7:45 PM on February 28, 2006


How do you give directions?

Get on the 405 and crawl along at 5 miles an hour until you hit the 101. Then stop with the rest of the traffic. Call me tomorrow when the traffic starts moving again, and I'll give you the rest of the directions.
posted by JekPorkins at 7:46 PM on February 28, 2006


I bet the 'the X-Y-Z' thing comes about in places with three digit highway names. The linguists should formulate a theory...
posted by Chuckles at 7:50 PM on February 28, 2006


I went to school near the edge of LA county, where the cities were little more than footnotes to the tangles of freeway. Around there, driving directions sounded like, "You take the 10 to the 5 to the 101 to the 405, and then you go east on the 110…"

My theory is that "the" becomes necessary as punctuation, to keep all the numbers from running together. :)
posted by mbrubeck at 7:56 PM on February 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


Nice theory Chuckles, but we still call it "the one-ten," "the seven-ten," "the sixty," "the two," etc. here.
posted by drpynchon at 7:59 PM on February 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


posted by litlnemo frogan, that is actually my theory for the use of "the" in SoCal. They got used to saying things like "The Santa Ana" and "The San Diego Freeway" so it carried over to the numeric freeway names.

Wow, someone else who shares my theory! It's the only plausible explanation I can imagine for this weird phenomenon--the only exception seems to be Highway 1--people in Southern California refer to it as "Pacific Coast Highway" or "PCH" but never "The 1"; people in Northern California refer to it only as "Highway 1".
posted by fandango_matt at 7:59 PM on February 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


Piggyback question: Living in quasi-rural Missouri, I've noticed something: rural folks say the number first, then "highway." For example: "Yeah, I live off 54 highway." Is this a rural midwest thing? A rural thing? I'd be interested in how widespread this is.
posted by zsazsa at 8:01 PM on February 28, 2006


armage -
Regional varations I'm familiar with.
In NY, people take "I-84" or I-87" or occasionally "the Thruway" if going up north.
If the road has a name, you use that instead - "The cross-bronx" or 'the bronx river".
The nomenclature seems to be to drop the trailing identifier, it's the Cross-Bronx Expressway and the Bronx River Parkway, but you rarely hear that.
Simarly, it's the Taconic Parkway, but most people "take the Taconic".

In KS/MO - You "took 435" or "took 70". For true natives, it was "76 Highway" rather than "Highway 76" but that tended to be the same people that called the state "Missoura".

In Socal - True natives seem to "take the Ventura" or "the San Diego freeway" whereas transplants seem to "take the 101" or "the 405". Named freeways are also very popular with traffic reporters, which sucks when you first move out there.
It's interesting that in San Diego, the numbers are used more than names (The 15 rather than "the Escondido Freeway") Also, the 52 in San Diego is just the 52, whereas SR74 is the Ortega Highway.
SR56 near San Diego is sometimes called "the Ted Williams" though that's not technically correct, and doesn't seem to be used much other than by traffic announcers.

In Oregon - As jdroth said, "the I-5" is a pretty good indicator that you are from California, as is an inabilty to pronounce Willamette. Numbers seem to be the most common around here - "take 99 to Corvallis", but natives like to use names - "take Prairie Rd to Salem" even if they aren't technically correct. I think it comes from the realignments that have happened since their great-grandpa came up on the Trail.
posted by madajb at 8:01 PM on February 28, 2006


Here in the UK we always use "the" when referring to road numbers, although you always, always, always use the prefix too.. "the M25", "the A16", etc. I've never heard anyone say "take M25", etc.

In my time in LA it was similar except no-one used "interstate" or "route", just.. "the 101" or "the 405". I heard the I-5 called the I-5 a few times, but it was not the main usage.
posted by wackybrit at 8:01 PM on February 28, 2006


drpynchon, not that I'm sure of anything, but... I kind of mistyped (or misedited). I meant to say something more like: I think the 'the X-Y-Z' thing comes about in places with a lot of three digit highway names, or where three digit names came first.

Who knows :)
(Well, I know that the 'the DVP' and 'the QEW' thing doesn't really count. If you are talking about a 'way' then you call it 'the', as far as I can tell)
posted by Chuckles at 8:04 PM on February 28, 2006


I always thought it was because referring to freeways in such a manner increased how significant they sound - like Incredible Hulk sounds much less elevated in importance than *The* Incredible Hulk. And let's face it, in LA freeways are elevated in importance; their significance really is the city.
posted by forallmankind at 8:04 PM on February 28, 2006


The best answer I've ever read to this question is this: there's a missing road-type designation. "The 101 Highway" or "The 101 freeway" naturally clips to "The 101." In the East, many parkways and expressways work like that: The Major Deegan Expressway becomes "The Major Deegan."
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:05 PM on February 28, 2006


In Socal - True natives seem to "take the Ventura" or "the San Diego freeway" whereas transplants seem to "take the 101" or "the 405". Named freeways are also very popular with traffic reporters, which sucks when you first move out there.

Having grown up in LA, I can tell you that I don't know any natives that say "take the Ventura" or "the Sand Diego freeway" EXCEPT for traffic reporters.
posted by drpynchon at 8:05 PM on February 28, 2006


"99% of the residents of the Puget Sound area say I-5, I-405, I-90, 167, 18, etc."

Really? I say I-5 and I-90, but it's simply the 405 (with no I prefix). The NPR traffic reports do it the same way. Maybe it's different for 3 digit highways?
posted by crazycanuck at 8:06 PM on February 28, 2006


The littlenemo/fandango_matt theory is a good one... The Queen Elizabeth Way (or 'the QEW') was first around Toronto. Since we are the centre of the universe, that probably explains it.
(note that I didn't call us the center of the universe)
posted by Chuckles at 8:06 PM on February 28, 2006


forallmankind: I always thought it was because referring to freeways in such a manner increased how significant they sound - like Incredible Hulk sounds much less elevated in importance than *The* Incredible Hulk. And let's face it, in LA freeways are elevated in importance; their significance really is the city.

Sure, that worked for Batman too, but how do you explain the fact that 'The Joker' had to be relegated to 'Joker' - law of conservation of definite articles maybe?
posted by Chuckles at 8:10 PM on February 28, 2006


Do you LA guys ever give a direction to take a freeway in?

Only if the direction is not obvious from the context of the overall direction being given. For example, if you're taking just one freeway, it's "take the 405 south and exit at..."

If you're listing multiple freeways, it's "take the 10 to the 5 to the 101" because the directions are obvious from the context (e.g. from an assumed starting point in West L.A., you must go east on the 10 to get to the 5).
posted by frogan at 8:11 PM on February 28, 2006


Expanding on the Ontario situation: only big, multilane highways get "the". The 401, the 417, the QEW, the Queensway. But you don't take "the 2" or "the 45", you take Highway 2 or Highway 45. The only exception I can think of for smaller highways is Highway 7, which is just "7". "Are you going to take the 401 back to Ottawa? Naw, I'm going to go up 7."

I beg to differ. The 401, the QEW, yes. But my parents live on the 2, or on Highway 2, but not on 2. (on 2 what?)

/rural Ontario near Kingston, now in Toronto, usually take the 401 home
posted by heatherann at 8:11 PM on February 28, 2006


stst399 -
580 is the MacArthur Freeway.
101 is the South Valley Freeway or the Central Freeway depending on where you are.
37 is the Marine World Parkway.

If you're going to confuse people, use the official names, then they can't accuse you of making things up when they get lost following your directions. heh.
posted by madajb at 8:12 PM on February 28, 2006


I'm from the Bay Area going to school down here in LA, and I personally make the generality that Nor Cal people mostly don't say "the" before the name of a freeway, mainly because it doesn't sound smooth ("the 680, the 237"). Just listen to KCBS 740 AM. They hardly use "the" during traffic reports, unless maybe it's a freeway that goes to LA (I-5, I-101)

I've listened to KNX down here and they almost always use "the" before most of their freeways, and even more confusedly for me, they sometimes only use the non-number name ("The Santa Monica Freeway", etc.), which really annoys me especially since that convention is not used in the Bay Area.
posted by beammeup4 at 8:15 PM on February 28, 2006


crazycanuck, I always figured there were a ton of California transplants on the Eastside. ;)

I-5, I-90, I-405 (or just "405") are still the most commonly heard usages around here, but a lot of Californians came here in the last 20 years so you have started to hear the California usage much more frequently. (Which makes me sad. Leave us our Washingtonian quirks.)

Where you do hear "the" around here is for the bridges. "Take the floating bridge to Mercer Island", or (more commonly nowdays) "Take the I-90 bridge to Mercer Island."

Then there is also the "West Seattle Freeway" which is no longer officially called a freeway, but it's usually "The West Seattle Freeway" when you do hear it... but it's a named freeway so it doesn't sound weird to have the "the".
posted by litlnemo at 8:16 PM on February 28, 2006


Wow, popular thread. Whenever I finish reading, I refresh and get another 6 posts. Anyway, here's a weigh-in from down south, Georgia.

I'm from Macon, where we preface interstates with an optional "I"... So I took I-75 to school, but I could just as easily take 75 there. Take 16 to get to Savannah. Etc. But never the anything.

For non-interstates, it's also optional. US 80 or 80 is the road to Columbus. Being from a decent-sized city, though, all those US and state highways have their own names ("Forsyth Road") so there's rarely a need for a number. Even with something like "Eisenhower Parkway", it's never "The Eisenhower", just "Eisenhower".

In Atlanta, it seems to be the same way. 85 goes to Charlotte, 20 goes... wherever the hell it goes. The roads to Athens are just 316 and 78 (not Georgia 316 or The 78). The road around Atlanta, though, can be either 285 or (here's sort of an outlier) THE Perimeter. Same goes for here in Athens, where I live now... State Road 10 circles the city but nobody ever gets on "ten" or "the ten"... you get on "The Loop".

Like LA, Atlanta is one big highway, but despite hours and hours of commute time, it still hasn't elevated (?) most roads to "the" status.

Other than names like the Loop, I can't imagine saying "The __". It would definitely give someone away as a newcomer.
posted by SuperNova at 8:17 PM on February 28, 2006


drpynchon
It seems to be dying out, it's true.
It's mostly older folk who use the names.
Maybe True natives who "lived here before all the damn freeways and I remember when the valley smelled like orange blossoms in the spring and damn it we could take the Red Car anywhere we wanted to go" would have been more appropriate? heh.
posted by madajb at 8:18 PM on February 28, 2006


If you are from Richmond you may have heard of people refering to Interstate that goes around Washington, DC as "the Beltway" instead of I-495. That seems the same to me. When I lived in LA from 1990-1994, it never even crossed my mind that I too refered to the many major interstates as The four-oh-five; the one-oh-one, etc. Seemed natural enough.

JekPorkins: What I always wanted to know is why, in MD/DC/VA, when giving a phone number, people will say "call me back on (202) ###-####," instead of "at" the number. Bizarre.

Ummm, I lived in DC/MD/VA for over 30 years and had never heard anyone use that phrasing. Bizarre.
posted by terrapin at 8:20 PM on February 28, 2006


I grew up in LA County, and I do indeed say "the 5" and "the 101", and it still slips into my speech even after having moved away. I also have a tendency to refer to highways as "freeways", even if I'm in a place where the term is almost non-existent. Most people don't seem to notice, or if they do they don't say anything. When I was on the East Coast, my friends were far more amused by my immediate corrections ("Get on the freeway - I mean, highway...") than they were by the words themselves.

I've been asked this question before, and I never really had an answer. One theory I came up with was along the lines of forallmankind's idea. If you ask someone in the LA-Orange County area to give you a geographical context for where they live, often they'll respond by telling you which freeways are closest. (Raging Waters has ended its advertisements for years with "where the 10 and 210 meet in San Dimas".) I don't know if this is common in other areas with extensive highway systems.

I think the missing word theory is also a good one.
posted by Aster at 8:23 PM on February 28, 2006


Yeah, as drpynchon said, when I was growing up in SoCal, no one used the San Diego Freeway (and especially not the Ventura!?!) except for traffic reporters, and it pissed me off when they did. Just like it pisses me off now commuting in San Francisco when the reporters always say "traffic is backed up on the upper deck" meaning the higher level of the Bay Bridge. Why in the hell would I care whether it's the top or bottom? I care whether it's east or west! Why make me do the mental translation? I think they just like to make up secret commuter language to sound like insiders. I never new the 405 or the 101 had any other name until I moved from away from LA.
posted by team lowkey at 8:30 PM on February 28, 2006


As a native Angeleno, you say the before the number of the freeway (not highway).

We do this because it is the correct way to refer to such things, unlike the neanderthal-like people that inhabit places Eastwards that use backwards terms like 'parkway', 'route' and 'I-'.
posted by Argyle at 8:44 PM on February 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


I had no idea this was a regionalism until I got to college (in Chicago) and met people from Northern California. I'm from Los Angeles....

Am I the only one who thinks this is the funniest comment in the thread?
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:03 PM on February 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


I think it is funniest comment in thread.
posted by mullacc at 9:21 PM on February 28, 2006


My theory on the origins of this have to do with the number of freeways where you live. In southern CA, if you want to go anywhere you take the freeway. In northern CA, the number/density of freeways is comparatively lower, so you'd treat freeways more like roads (ex: you take Main St. to 101 not the Main St. to the 101).
And then there is always Birkenstocks vs. flip-flops.......
posted by Sloben at 9:28 PM on February 28, 2006


Liken it to driving on the road, not at the road. Surfing on the internet, not at the internet, et cetera.

Huh? The poster was talking about the word "the" not the word "on".
posted by delmoi at 9:36 PM on February 28, 2006


Well, how the hell would I have met them otherwise, Ishmael? Drive through central California? Are you kidding?

To clarify, during my first year of college, people in my dorm (we came from all over) would often sit around and compare regionalisms. For example, when recounting an anecdote, people from California would say, "And I was all, 'blah blah blah,'" while people from the Midwest would say, "And I was all like, 'blah blah blah!'" My favorite California regionalism, though, is "BITER."
posted by granted at 9:36 PM on February 28, 2006


I don't know where you "NorCal" people are hearing "the" 101 and stuff. I was born & raised here in Walnut Creek and the only people that I EVER hear saying "The 101" are a)transplants from Southern California or b)tourists.

The locals just don't say it. My parents never said it. None of my friends & family (all long time Bay Area folks) say it. Nobody my father knew in construction/Caltrans ever said it.

My vote: Southern California thang.
posted by drstein at 9:45 PM on February 28, 2006


as someone who was raised about a block from the I-5, I have always called it "the I5", and then referred to it as "where the Golden State and the Hollywood converge" to non-natives. (this depends on what direction you're coming from.) since moving to TN, I have referred to highways out here with the preceding 'the' without a second glance (i.e. get on the 40 or get on the 65), and those from this area have referred to them in the same way. however, I have been ridiculed for calling interstate highways 'freeways' since moving to the South, mainly due to the lack of toll booths in this part of the US. (not that there were any in southern California, but that was the reason I was told they were called freeways.)
posted by mrg at 9:50 PM on February 28, 2006


In Seattle, putting "the" in front of the freeway name is getting a little more common. I heard Molly Shen, one of the anchors on KOMO-TV (ABC affilliate), use it the other night, and she's a Missouri native and has worked in Washington for years and years.

I think putting "I" in front of an Interstate Highway name has to do with how it sounds. Interstate 5 is virtually always "I-5", occasionally "Interstate 5" (and by the way, "our" I-5 is the same as the one in L.A. -- it's continuous, you know). "Get on 5 northbound" is heard occasionally On the other hand, Interstate 405 is almost always refered to as "405" (and it's OUR 405 -- three digit designations are local Interstate beltways or bypasses and are not continuous), and Interstate 90 is always "I-90." 101, by the way, is called "101" around here, because it's not an Interstate, it's just a federal route, like the old Route 66. Route 99, which still runs pretty continuously in the Puget Sound area, is referred to in addresses as "Pacific Highway." Where I live, Federal Way, was so named because the "federal (high)way," Highway 99, runs through it (as does I-5).

As for why they're called "freeways," it's because they are not toll roads, which were never common in the west anyway (toll bridges, yes...toll roads, no).

Interesting page on this is here. (Highway designation rules are a little over halfway down the page).
posted by lhauser at 10:06 PM on February 28, 2006


Fishfucker's got it. It just doesn't flow to say "I'm stuck on fucking 5 and it's going 3 mph." You need "the." And you'd never discuss a SoCal Freeway without the word "fucking" before it. And as stated above, it's just hard to say "take 5 to 605 to 405 to 55 to 91." You need "the" to give people time to write down the numbers.

I grew up in Redding (NorCal). It was I-5. I moved to Orange County and it's the 5. Now saying I-5 sounds like "the internets" or "the DVDs" to me.
posted by tinamonster at 10:13 PM on February 28, 2006 [2 favorites]


As an add-on to the directions origin("take the n to the n to the n"), a verbal tic in upstate NY is to only use the first "I" when giving long directions.

That is, "take I-87, to 84 to 17" rather than "take I-87, to I-84 to rt 17".
posted by madajb at 10:29 PM on February 28, 2006


Agreed - someone should do an LA freeway map (a la all the anagram subway maps of late) on which all the freeways are renamed with a "The Fucking -" prefix. I'm sure it would be very useful for tourists to help them understand what the fuck people are talking about....
posted by forallmankind at 10:33 PM on February 28, 2006


San Jose native here. No definite articles by anyone in my experience. In fact, I never even noticed it in LA till about ten years ago, and I do tend to pay attention to how people talk. I wonder about the ages of the people who grew up saying THE 101. I'm convinced it's at most a 25 year old phenomenon, even in LA. I'm trying to dig through my DVD collection to come up with LA movies from the 70s to see how they say it. Chinatown, anyone?
posted by divrsional at 10:45 PM on February 28, 2006


"Route 99, which still runs pretty continuously in the Puget Sound area, is referred to in addresses as 'Pacific Highway.'"

Except when it is "Aurora Avenue." Or "South Tacoma Way." (S. Tacoma Wy is the old 99, isn't it? Maybe not. I'm from Seattle so I only know the Seattle bits well.) And I think there are some parts of it in western WA that still have only the old number and not a name. (Or they might be labeled as "Old Highway 99.")

Usually it is called Highway 99 or Aurora (if you are talking about the Seattle leg). Technically it is only State Route 99 because it's no longer a national highway, but almost no one calls it that. It's just Highway 99. (And why is it Highway 99, but Route 66?)

To bring it back into the context of the question, no one would ever say "the 99" -- it is either "Highway 99", "99", or one of the local street names like Aurora or Pac Hwy.

I love this sort of regional language geekiness...
posted by litlnemo at 11:25 PM on February 28, 2006


It's very much a SoCal regional thing. Despite what rkent says, true-blooded Northern Californians don't call it "the 280" or "the 101." This is a regional quirk I've discussed with my SoCal friends a lot, interesting to see how it's done in other parts of the country.
posted by TunnelArmr at 11:48 PM on February 28, 2006


Let's just settle this here and now with my authoritative statements. An an Nth generation native San Franciscan, and something of a jerk about it, I'm empowered to speak on these matters with finality:

"The" is a southern California regionalism. Media down there refers to freeways as "the four oh five," and that media usage reflects and is reflected in public speech. It's also incorrect.

Northern California media does not use "the," and likewise is reflecting and reinforcing local usage.

I-5 is called I-5. "The five" is an abomination that I renounce in the strongest possible way. The term is unknown in the Bay Area barring the fair number of LA area transplants, exceedingly rare in central Oregon, and unheard of on the Oregon coast. Calling I-5 either "the five" or "five" is not only incorrect but grating to the ear. The term is "I-5," and there is no other label for this freeway.

No other interstate freeway shall be referred to with an "I-" designator. One does not say "I-880," "I-580," or "I-505". One does not say "I-80." "Interstate eighty" is an acceptable alternative, but only for that specific freeway and no others.

"It just doesn't flow to say "I'm stuck on fucking 5 and it's going 3 mph.""

The correct phrasing of this sentence is: "I'm stuck on fucking I-5 and it's going 3mph." An alternate phrasing might be "I'm fucking stuck on I-5..." but that changes the emphasis somewhat. One does not use "the" in this sentence both for correctness and because it sounds stupid to use "the" in a numerical freeway name. It would be marginally closer to correct to say "the I-5," but still wrong. Its name is I-5 and it has no other name.

"no one would ever say "the 99""

This is correct. It is not "Route 99" nor "the 99." It's "Highway 99" or just 99.

"(ex: you take Main St. to 101 not the Main St. to the 101). "

This is correct, although I think it's specious at best to correlate it with the number of freeways and the frequency of use. 101 is a freeway, a type of street. One does not say "the Market Street" or "the Hayes Street" any more than one says "the 101," "the 1," or "the 380." It's improper usage of the name of a street.

I'm glad to have settled that for everyone. By the way, 380 is the coolest freeway in the world.
posted by majick at 12:25 AM on March 1, 2006


It's a London thing too. In the UK, roads are often named after the towns you'd reach if you travelled along those roads. So in Derby, where I used to live, we had Nottingham Road, Burton Road, Ashbourne Road, etc.

When I moved down here I noticed that people put 'the' in front of the road names, for example 'the Barking Road', 'the Old Kent Road', 'the Epping New Road', etc.

But it's only in relation to the roads that have a town or county or 'direction' name in them (like 'the Great North Road', 'the Eastern Avenue').

I thought it was very odd at first, but after 25+ years down here I now say it myself.
posted by essexjan at 12:48 AM on March 1, 2006


Here in Ireland, there's always a "the" in front of highway names as well... the M50, the Naas Road, the N81, etc. I'e never heard heard highways referred to as anything BUT *the* whatever. Never thought of why that is.
posted by antifuse at 1:36 AM on March 1, 2006


If you're listing multiple freeways, it's "take the 10 to the 5 to the 101"

Yeah, I've definitely had this conversation:

"How do I get there?"

"Uh, get on the 101 to the 10 to the 5 to the 110." (end of directions, direction-giver believes things are perfectly clear)

"WHAT THE FUCK"

After a few of those, it started to make sense, but for a while I would just end up riding around residential streets lost.
posted by thedaniel at 1:39 AM on March 1, 2006


I am guessing whether or not there is a "the" depends on how the name is structured. If it is Highway + designation then there is likely to be no "the." If it is reversed then there is a "the."

For example, Intestate and 200 is Highway + designation. People would most likely say Interstate 200 (or I-200). But if it is designation + Highway, e.g. 300 Freeway then people would most likely say the 300. It feels like there should be a "the" there.

Once one pattern is established, then it is likely the norm and that will hold even if a new highway has a different structured name, thus a person who says "the" will probably say "The whatever" even if the new highway is more of a "I-whatever" type of name because a pattern has been established.

Might also explain why people in New York say "the" with named Expressways (the BQE) but not with numbers (287).

PS the call me on..
Could be the growth of cell phones? You say call me on my cell, so then it gets transferred to the actual number. I hear this more and more in New York and it isn't native here.
posted by xetere at 5:09 AM on March 1, 2006


As an east-coaster and fellow Richmond-dweller, I always assumed that southern Californians used "the" in front of interstate highway names because they have all the small-digit, one-syllable interstate numbers (both N-S and E-W). And as it was stated upthread, "take 5 to 10 to 1" sounds utterly stupid; the one-syllable highways demand an extra syllable, and habit would carry it over to all the other local freeways.

Here on the east coast, our roads all have too many syllables already. Chippenham Parkway? I tell people to just "take Chippenham." Though I do take "the Powhite Parkway" to work each morning. We need that extra article to distract listeners from the stupid name.
posted by junkbox at 6:30 AM on March 1, 2006


Like SuperNova in Georgia, here in Houston it is the same. You wouldn't say "the" I-10 or "the" 45. It is either I-10 or 10. The only time "the" is used is when you are calling it "the" Katy Freeway. (but you have to remeber that is only the west side of 10. The east side has a different name.) And you don't have to use it then but most do. "The" is often used when talking about "the Loop" or "the Westpark Toll Road".

If someone said "the I-10" or "the 10" it would be a dead giveaway that they were not from here. It just sounds weird.

If I were telling someone how I get to work. I would say that I take I-10 to 45 to 288 to highway 6 or I could take 10 to the loop to 288. Althought I used to take the Katy Freeway all the way my old job.
posted by nimsey lou at 7:12 AM on March 1, 2006


In the Chicago area, Interstates are generally known by honorary names. For example, I-55, from I-355 into the city, is called "The Stevenson". I-88 (east of I-355) is called "The Reagan". There's "The Ike (or The Eisenhower)", which is I-290. "The Dan Ryan" (I-94, often called the "Dyin' Ryan" due to overwhelming amounts of traffic). There are others ("The Bishop Ford", "The Kennedy", and so on), but it proves, to me anyway, that it's very much a regional thing. Friends from south Illinois have no clue what I'm talking about when I say "Take the Stevenson to LSD (Lake Shore Drive)".

Oddly enough, most of the highway signage uses not only the I-### convention, but the "name" of the highway as well.
posted by Merdryn at 7:31 AM on March 1, 2006


It would be marginally closer to correct to say "the I-5," but still wrong. Its name is I-5 and it has no other name.

If you had multiple numbered roads with the same number assigned to them in the area such that you'd need to clearly designate that you were referring to Interstate 5 rather than State Route 5, you might have a point. Otherwise, you are clearly insane.
posted by LionIndex at 8:03 AM on March 1, 2006


I-5 is called I-5. "The five" is an abomination that I renounce in the strongest possible way.

As you can see, the pompous folks upstate are well known for their bloviation, with little tolerance for regional variation.

If you want the reason after all these posts, it is indeed this: people in southern California do not use these thoroughfares for interstate travel, but for local morning commutes. As such, none of them are thought of as "interstates." Frankly other states, and even people within our state who live north of us interest us not in the least. As such, we refer to them all as "freeways" (why this is is another question). So it is "the 101 freeway" or "the 405 freeway." I suspect PCH is an exception because it runs along the coast, is famous, and is typically not used for commuting. So when we say "the 101" it really is just a shorthand for "the 101 freeway," as opposed to "interstate 101" which means nothing to us because we use "freeways" for local commutes. Moreover, as you can see, when the descriptive number used comes before the noun ("the 5 freeway" as opposed to "I-5"), it makes much less sense if you don't use an article ("the"). "Take I-5" sounds ok, but "take 5" or "take 5 freeway" manes no sense at all. Hence, one "takes the 5 (freeway)."

I think someone else basically said this before, but I'm too busy getting ready to enjoy a warm, sunny day in LA to look up and see. In any event, this is the fact of the matter.
posted by drpynchon at 8:30 AM on March 1, 2006 [2 favorites]


Americans sure do love to talk about their regionalisms, dont they?

In northeastern Ohio, where I grew up, it was either I-71, I-77, etc. State highways were Route 18, and so forth. In Kansas, we had I-70 or the Kansas Turnpike (state routes were K-10, etc.) When I went to Williamsburg, VA for law school, we followed the practice discussed above for Richmond. In central Pennsylvania, "Route x" seemed to be fairly common if you weren't referring to "the PA Turnpike". I-76 became "the Schuykill Expressway" if you went far enough east. In Louisville, KY, the highways were referred to as I-64, I-71, I-65, but the bypass highways are "the Watterson Expressway" and "the Dan Snyder Freeway" (or the Watterson and the Dan Snyder) and not I-264 and I-265.

Now I'm in St. Louis, where we have 55, 44, 70, etc. But not 64 or I-64. That's "Highway 40". Soon to become an 11-mile parking lot.
posted by fochsenhirt at 8:33 AM on March 1, 2006


I've had this conversation before in NorCal, where it seems a popular topic of discussion. For what it's worth, I've heard it used interchangably in both the Bay Area and LA. Though each area has their preference as already indicated.


In Chicago this can be a problem when you have similarly named highways that branch out, but going in relatively the same direction: "go to 94 north" / "go 294 north".
posted by o0o0o at 9:11 AM on March 1, 2006


On a tangent, it's amusing how USians visiting English speaking parts of Europe will tend to almost always drop the "Street" or "Avenue" portion of a street name. This can lead to baffled looks from locals in, say, Dublin, when a gaggle of tourists is asking for "Where is O"Connell?", or "Where is Grafton"? I'm assuming that UKians also tend to incorporate the "street" or "avenue" bit into their normal speech.
posted by meehawl at 9:30 AM on March 1, 2006


I will chime in to agree that all numbered roads in England have a "the" in front, even if they are weird things like "the A1(M)."

As to named streets or highways, it really seems to depend: definitely "the Great North Way" and "the Edgware Road," but just Cheapside, Kingsway, and (vastly predating motorized transport) Wattling Street.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:36 AM on March 1, 2006


I lived in SoCal for 5 years, NoCal for 20+. I have always heard "the" spoken before both numbered freeways and named freeways, i.e.: "the Nimitz, the Santa Monica, the 405; the 280...." - in both regions.
posted by Lynsey at 10:04 AM on March 1, 2006


Maybe this has already been answered, but MY guess, as a native Angelino, is that freeways there used to have names. The San Diego, The Golden State, the Harbor, the Antelope, etc. etc.

It evolved into the 405, the 5, the 11, the 14, etc., as the highway system got more regional and less local.

The anomaly was the 605, which never had a name. But they all have personalities, at least to commuters. ("The 405 was an absolute bitch today.")

In Portland, the city part of Interstate 84 is known locally as "The Banfield," I think.
posted by Danf at 10:15 AM on March 1, 2006


On a related topic: why is it that some people call highways "freeways"? (By highway I mean a major road without many stoplights that nevertheless has no exit ramps and onramps. To me, a freeway has no lights of any kind and lots of onramps and offramps.)

On Maui, some people in our family (all NoCal people) would say "the freeway" when they meant the two-lane Piilani Highway (Route 31) bypassing downtown Kihei. (Hawaii route numbers are only for tourists anyway.)

When Sioux City relatives come to visit, any local freeway (e.g. CT 2) becomes "the interstate."

By the way, [Calif. I-]380 is the coolest freeway in the world.

It was planned to have been even cooler, extending west to the Highway 1. I have some fun pix of the unused 380 roadway below 280 that I haven't had a chance to add to the page.
posted by kurumi at 10:37 AM on March 1, 2006


The anomaly was the 605, which never had a name. But they all have personalities, at least to commuters

Oh my gawd yes. I haven't lived there in six years, but you whisper "The Santa Ana" in my ear and I can quickly conjure up a hell hole of conjested truck traffic on a worn out highway.

Isn't the 605 The San Gabriel?

I moved to Raleigh at 42 from So Cal and I just realized my darling husband has never corrected me when I refer to "The 40" as a freeway. Hah! I don't even know what the proper reference is.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 10:59 AM on March 1, 2006


My experience in Ontario is similar to mendel's: the 400-series highways are "the four-oh-one", "the four-seventeen", etc., and the named expressways are "the DVP", "the QEW" etc. But highways that are not expressways are "highway two" or "highway seven."

When I lived in NYC, they did the same thing for named expressways -- "the BQE" and "the FDR" etc. (even when "the" is not used in the full name -- e.g. while "the BQE" is "The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway", "the FDR" is "Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive")
posted by winston at 11:04 AM on March 1, 2006


I'm a fifth generation Northern Californian, and it hurts my ears when people say "the 101". I definitely associate it with friends from SoCal.
When I was very small it seemed like all the freeways had names instead of numbers like "the Nimitz" and "Bayshore"- not really sure how that has any bearing on the issue, though.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:33 AM on March 1, 2006


Here on the east coast, our roads all have too many syllables already. Chippenham Parkway? I tell people to just "take Chippenham." Though I do take "the Powhite Parkway" to work each morning. We need that extra article to distract listeners from the stupid name.

Hear hear. I could say, "I took the Downtown Expressway to the Powhite to Chippenham to Jeff Davis Highway." No one, and I mean *no one*, calls the Powhite Parkway "Route 76", or Chippenham Parkway "Route 150" or any of that nonsense.

Thanks for your comments, everyone! I guess it is generally a SoCal phenomenon.

(I wonder if we've hit a record number of responses in a single AskMe thread yet...)
posted by armage at 4:22 PM on March 1, 2006


I live (now) in a fairly small town in Maine (after 10+ years in SoCal) and here they do it with surface streets, too. (Oops, I mean, plain old roads.) So half the time the locals call it "the" Portland Road or "the" Alfred Road, and of course there's "the" 'pike. Kind of old fashioned and small-townish. I like it.
posted by wordwhiz at 5:20 PM on March 1, 2006


Born and raised in SoCal and as others have said, "the" is always in front of freeway/highway names and numbers. I moved to Texas in my mid 20s and was teased about this "quirk" of mine. A co-worker from NoCal was also quick to note my linguistic oddity.

Thankfully Canucks (I now live in BC) also have this "quirk". They tend to call freeways "highways" though, but I'm getting used to doing that myself.

It would be interesting to find out what a linguist (if that's the right person) would make of my accent.

PS: I ♥ AskMe!
posted by deborah at 8:48 PM on March 1, 2006


Related MetaChat thread.

Just to throw my 2¢ in here, I think it has to do with naming conventions. In NY/NJ, proper names receive definite articles (The BQE, The [Garden State] Parkway, The LIE, The Major Deegan, The Turnpike, The Thruway, etc.) while numbered routes do not, (17, Route 4, 295, 2nd Avenue, 125th Street - Avenue of the Americas is an exception; it's not THE Ave. of the Americas, not to anyone I know; but it's also not a highway). However, 17 for example is interchangeably Route 17 and just plain 17. I don't know anyone from CA who calls it Route 101, so I think the route number has been converted into a proper noun (and so should be spelled with capital numbers!), and so the convention extends.
posted by Eideteker at 3:47 PM on July 7, 2006


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