"The Domesday Book"? Or "Domesday Book"?
August 15, 2010 5:55 AM   Subscribe

"The Domesday Book"? Or "Domesday Book"? Does it matter? And why?

Why do some people - including the canonical owner - seem to refer to the work without the prefixed definite article? Other reputable sources with a style guide seem to go for "The...", and wikipedia is its usual mixed bag.

In a subsidiary note, any bright ideas about the syntax of google queries involving with or without "the" would be much appreciated ;)
posted by cromagnon to Writing & Language (10 answers total)
Checking out the OED, none of the quotations given give it the definite article - ranging from the 15th to the 19th century. So I'd say that this is the established usage, but since to modern ears it sounds a little wrong without the definite article it gets added in.
posted by Coobeastie at 6:12 AM on August 15, 2010

It seems to me that the reliable sources (e.g., the titles of books written about it) call it "Domesday" and not "The Domesday Book". I suppose this implies that the name was meant as a sort of transference - that the book is called Domesday because, like Domesday, it is final. It is not "the Domesday Book", because you can't use "Domesday" as an adjective to mean "utterly final". Similarly, you can call a place "heaven" if it's very nice (even though we all know that it isn't actually heaven) but if you simply mean that it has attributes that make it like heaven you must say "heavenly".
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:29 AM on August 15, 2010

In the Wiki article's bibliography section, none of the sources use "The Domesday Book" in their titles.

However, I imagine that most non-specialists would refer to it as "The Domesday Book" because the definite article is used to let us know something is unique/the only one of its kind in the area-space-time-milieu we're talking about/separate, to the exclusion of everything else.

Seeing as the book is taken these days by most people, rightly or wrongly (and again, who are not specialists) as one single set (of sets of results) from a survey - and a very significant, and, yes, unique document (think "the Magna Carta" or "the Declaration of Independence"), and that most people use language based on what 1) people around them say and 2) what they've said before about similar things, I don't see why people wouldn't use the.

So it appears that if you're happy for usage to determine your answer, then go with the; if you would rather the scholarly consensus determine your answer, avoid it.
posted by mdonley at 7:05 AM on August 15, 2010

There was a BBC documentary on Domesday recently (if you are in the UK it's here) and the presenter on that used 'Domesday' / 'Domesday Book' with no 'the' for both the book itself and the survey/process of writing it. I'm not sure if he ever explained why there was no 'the' (I had it on the background) but it I sort of gathered that it had had many names over the years 'The Book of Winchester' etc but Domesday was the colloquial English name for it (as Joe In Australia outlines) as it was like the Day of Judgement at the time and that's the one that stuck.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:15 AM on August 15, 2010

There's also the fact that, in general, English likes to put in some kind of article most of the times. We call it "The Bible", "The Magna Carta", "The Revelation of St. John*", "The Eleven O'Clock News". Titles of more modern works like Hamlet or Inception are the only areas where modern English speakers don't tend to do this. (IANALinguist, though.)

It's not a novel called Domesday - it's a document. And it's an old document which appeared before our modern titling conventions. So I feel like there are no real hard and fast rules - it's just that experts don't use the definite article. Which is fine. As is using the article if it seems to flow better for you.

*Which is the only example I can think of where the reverse is true - It's called The Revelation(...) by experts, but Revelations by lay people. As if it were the latest summer blockbuster or something.
posted by Sara C. at 8:45 AM on August 15, 2010

It's "Domesday Book".

The official holders of the book, The National Archives, are probably the best source for this. They colloquially refer to it as "Domesday", but never either "The Domesday Book" or "the Domesday Book."
posted by MuffinMan at 9:37 AM on August 15, 2010

Best answer:
There's also the fact that, in general, English likes to put in some kind of article most of the times. We call it "The Bible", "The Magna Carta", "The Revelation of St. John*", "The Eleven O'Clock News". Titles of more modern works like Hamlet or Inception are the only areas where modern English speakers don't tend to do this.
IAALinguist. This is not really accurate. Maybe I just didn't understand what you meant -- but there is no historical connection to adding a definite article or not, nor is it particularly uncommon to leave it out in general; it just depends on the specific word.

The reason for some names having the article has everything to do with proper names and how they work. In general, a definite article is so called because it indicates definiteness -- when we are talking about a specific item (i.e. known to the listener) or not. When I introduce a new item into the discourse, I use the indefinite article ("there is a book on the table"), and now that this book is known information, I can/must refer to it with the definite ("now pick up the book").

Something with a proper name can, for a number of reasons, have an article embedded as part of its name (or not). When a proper name does have an article embedded, then most of the time, the article must be included (however, there are common exceptions, like when the proper noun appears as an adjunct modifying another word: e.g. "Bible college", "Bible-bashing", etc.). Conversely, when a proper name does NOT contain a definite article, it can still show up in certain grammatical situations (e.g. "Tom", but "this is not the Tom I know", or "I eat at McDonald's", but "I go to the McDonald's on Main St.).

In the case of Domesday Book, it appears to be that the author happened to decide to call it "Domesday Book" with no article -- that choice is totally up to the creator. There is no absolute grammatical restriction on how English works that demands the article be there or not be there. I think the reason why there is even any peculiarity to the "Domesday Book" example at all is because of the fact that "Book" is also embedded into the name of this book, which is not very common to do (at least not without an article), so sometimes people assume there is a definite article as part of the name. It only matters to the extent that it matters to you, the author, and the fans/scholars of the work.
posted by kosmonaut at 11:11 AM on August 15, 2010

Zed wrote: Domesday Book, like Magna Carta, is in Latin.

Er, no it isn't. The text of the book is in Latin, but the name "Domesday Book" is English - "dome" is an archaic spelling of "doom", meaning judgment. "Domesday Book" means "Judgment Day Book".
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:03 PM on August 15, 2010

There's actually a much simpler explanation. Domesday Book is not a book, it's a collection of books.

Domesday Book exists in several different versions: Exon Domesday, which covers South-West England, Little Domesday, which covers East Anglia, and Great Domesday, which covers the whole country but omits some of the information in the other two versions. So there is no single volume that you can point to and say "this is the Domesday Book". It's not a single physical object, it's a cluster of objects that, taken together, constitute an archive and a source of legal authority, so 'Domesday Book', with no definite article, is a more accurate description than 'the Domesday Book'.
posted by verstegan at 6:34 AM on September 11, 2010

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