(the) road ends here
August 22, 2010 7:02 PM   Subscribe

Suppose that I was giving someone directions to my house that involved telling someone to take an highway or freeway. Would I be correct in telling that person to "take the 10" or "drive four miles on the 60"? I've been mercilessly mocked for inserting the "the" into those directions, but I can't find anything conclusive about the proper way to refer to it.

My parents have always inserted "the" when talking about freeways and highways, and I just always assumed that was how everyone talked about it. Clearly not.

The wikipedia article for (the) I-10, for example, refers to "the 405" in California but "Loop 202" in Arizona. It appears that if the highway has a name, like the East Expressway, using a "the" is appropriate. Does the same rule not apply for numbered interstates and highways, perhaps outside of California?

Possibly relevant details:

1. My parents and I are from the Southwest US
2. The person I was talking to was from the South
posted by pecknpah to Grab Bag (77 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's a california thing. I'm from Boston and we use "the", but not them folks around these parts.
posted by milinar at 7:04 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

California quirk. A fellow I knew was also mocked for telling people to drive on "the 90."
posted by wg at 7:05 PM on August 22, 2010

Around here (north Texas), we say things like: "Go south on 35" (which 35, 35E or 35W? depends on context), "take loop 820," "turn right on 1171." Often times, all prefixes except loop are omitted. In the preceding examples, it'd be IH-35E/35W, Loop IH-820, and FM 1171. If there's a name, it's used interchangeably with the number (i.e. "turn right on Denton Highway" and "turn right on 377" mean the same thing).

In short, it's a regional thing. Just like how the strips of paved roads bordering a limited-access highway are called frontage, service, access, and feeder roads depending on where you are in Texas.
posted by fireoyster at 7:07 PM on August 22, 2010

Best answer: Specifically, Southern California.
posted by purpleclover at 7:07 PM on August 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Honestly, I've never heard that in my life. I tried running it through my head, and I want to laugh at myself for pretending to say it. Mostly because to my brain it sounds like you're using the number as an adjective and you're leaving out the noun. Take the 10 what?
posted by theichibun at 7:08 PM on August 22, 2010

Best answer: It's definitely a California thing. I live in Boston now and had a long conversation with a friend once in which I was referring to "the 60" and I was talking about the road and she thought I was talking about a bus. It definitely made for hilarity ("but the 60 goes nowhere NEAR there!"), but I would say in most instances, when you're clearly giving driving directions and the person is expected to be driving, you can't cause too much confusion.

One thing I have noticed is that it appears to be backward in California and Boston. For example, if you refer to a road by number, in Boston, it's just "number" - or possibly "route number". In California, it would be "the 405" as you pointed out. But if you're referring to a named road, in Boston, it's "THE road" - i.e. "The Mass Pike", but in California, you just say "road" (i.e. "PCH").

Wacky, eh?
posted by pazazygeek at 7:08 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: That's only done in Southern California, not the entire state.
posted by apricot at 7:10 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am from Pennsylvania - we referred to "the 435" as merely 435, without the "the." So, giving directions would be "take a left onto 435 after you've passed the fork in the road and the crooked tree."

However, now I'm in Arizona - and you take "the 60," "the I-10," and "the 202."
posted by Sassyfras at 7:11 PM on August 22, 2010

Weird, I'm from California and I don't put "the" in front of any highway or freeway unless it has a name. Maybe it's regional to southern California?
posted by patheral at 7:11 PM on August 22, 2010

Response by poster: Darn it. I think I just lost a bet. Yep, my parents are from Southern California, so that explains that.
posted by pecknpah at 7:12 PM on August 22, 2010

Canada - I use and hear "the" all the time - "take the 20 Westbound" etc.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:13 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: And I've lived in AZ for years and never been mocked for it. It's probably because there's lots of Southern Californian transplants here. :)
posted by pecknpah at 7:14 PM on August 22, 2010

More anecdotal - lived in Utah my whole life and I can't ever recall telling people to take "the" [road number]. It's always just [road].
posted by msbutah at 7:19 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Purpleclover is correct in that this is not true for all of California. As a native San Francisco Bay Arean, I and everyone I know from there consistently refer to freeways without "the," as in "80" or "I-80," for example. My father, who grew up in Southern California but has now lived in the Bay Area for more than 40 years, uses both designations depending on where the freeway is. In his mind, for example, the same road he calls "I-5" when it runs through Sacramento becomes "the 5" from south of the Grapevine all the way to San Diego.

I have often suspected, though without proof, that this quirk owes to a higher incidence of roads in Southern California with alternate names: "The Santa Ana Freeway," "The Santa Monica Freeway." They exist to a certain extent in Northern California, but not as many and usage of the alternate names not nearly as frequent.
posted by donpedro at 7:19 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

FWIW, also in Canada, and we take the 40 or the 15 or whatever. It sounds very odd to say something like "go west on 40".
posted by jeather at 7:20 PM on August 22, 2010

Wow. Vancouverite here, and that sounds perfectly normal to me. Around here, it's either 'take Highway #1 East', or take the #1 east.' Or 'take the 99 south'. There has to be something in front of the number... otherwise it just sounds awkward. I'm not sure i'd really notice its absence in a conversation too much unless it was really pronounced, but it to my ears something needs to be there. I had no idea other places thought differently.
posted by cgg at 7:25 PM on August 22, 2010

I'm in Canada, and like l'Estrange Fruit I use and hear "the" constantly. In fact, I don't think I've heard it any other way (at least in PEI and Ontario). You "go east on the 401" or "get off the number 1" or "I hate taking the number 2" (those "number" ones might be PEI specific). Anything different sounds weird to me.

Radio broadcasters doing the traffic reports also seem to do this. I can't immediately find examples, but I've seen CBC online use things like "the 403" right in articles.
posted by 1UP at 7:28 PM on August 22, 2010

Best answer: I'm from Arizona and I always say "the 202" or "the 60." Everyone I know speaks the same way!
posted by nel at 7:29 PM on August 22, 2010

Chicago has named expressways (toll and free) and they tend to go by "the + Name", e.g. "the Kennedy" (I-90), "the Edens" (I-94), while numbered highways just go by the number (I-294). In Madison, there's "the Beltline", but this hasn't migrated the article over to the numbered Interstates or US highways. It's just a regionalism, neither right nor wrong, and all you need to say is that's the way you grew up. If you move someplace, though, try to adopt what the locals use, for simplicity of conversation.
posted by dhartung at 7:29 PM on August 22, 2010

Canadian here nthing the fact that putting the definite article in front of highway names is indeed completely normal clear across the country.

I take the 416, the 417 and the 401 frequently in Ontario. I took the 103 to my mother's when I lived in Nova Scotia. And in Alberta I took the #2 north to Edmonton.

Most definitely not just a southern California thing. If someone said, "Take 416 south" I would definitely giggle.
posted by fso at 7:35 PM on August 22, 2010

Using "the" + the road number is also done in Buffalo and Toronto.

Missourians (specifically around Kansas City) would say "60 Highway" (but for Kansas roads it's "K-60").

I've also heard "Number 60 Highway" in Atlantic Canada.
posted by Gridlock Joe at 7:35 PM on August 22, 2010

I might typically say, "Take the 57 to the 91 West, then 605 North to the 105." The "the" slips in and out. But I would generally say, "Take Highway 1," or "Take I-5," leaving the "the" out completely if I am identifying the road some other way.

I think.

I hate hate hate calling freeways by a name. Mostly because the names change depending on what section you're on. Or mostly because I grew up in San Diego. San Diego, I've been told, had a policy of NOT naming freeways. I grew up there, and when I moved to L. A. the freeway name thing sent me around the bend.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:36 PM on August 22, 2010

I'm from Buffalo and it's always the 90, the 290, the 400, etc.
posted by kat518 at 7:36 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Like dhartung's Chicago example, New Yorkers will refer to "the Bruckner", "the Hutch", "the LIE", "the Cross Bronx" (and for that matter - the Bronx). But numbered highways are always just 95, 495, 78.

On the other hand, in the SF Bay area, I've heard Highway 101 referred to both ways - as 101, and "the 101". That road seems to be unique in that regard in the Bay area - I've never heard "the 280" or "the 580".
posted by deadmessenger at 7:38 PM on August 22, 2010

Best answer: I grew up in the south. Around there, if you're referring to an interstate highway, most people will refer to it simply by the number or perhaps prefix it with "I". For example, "Take 75 north" or "take I-75 north" would both be valid forms of giving directions around Atlanta. No one would ever say "take the 75". It just sounds weird to southern ears. For state & local highways, people will either say just the number or prefix it with the word "highway" (e.g., "92" or "highway 92"). One notable exception to this rule is state highway 400 in Georgia, which the vast majority of people refer to as "Georgia 400". I'm not aware of many other state highways in the south that area actually prefixed with the state name like that.

I now live in New England. Around here, people tend to use the word "route" a lot, regardless of whether they're referring to a local highway, state highway, or interstate highway. For example, "Route 128" is a Massachusetts state highway and "Route 95" is actually Interstate 95. (And they are actually the same road around most of greater Boston.) Sounds a bit weird to me, but I'm gradually growing accustomed to it. But again, nobody really says "the" around here like people do in southern California.
posted by Nothlit at 7:38 PM on August 22, 2010

It's a Southern California thing, or so I've heard. It just occurred to me a few days ago that if someone told me to "take the 1", I wouldn't be looking for a road numbered 1; I'd be looking for a bus route numbered 1. (It might help that I don't have a car.) So my pet theory of the moment is that this is more common in areas with less public transportation.

(Native Philadelphian; spent a few years in Boston; moved to Oakland last week.)
posted by madcaptenor at 7:40 PM on August 22, 2010

I think that in San Francisco I take the 101 or I take 280 (no article). not sure why the usage is different for me in the twp instances.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 7:40 PM on August 22, 2010

southern california born and raised, and I always use "the". it's so ingrained, directions sound bizarre and lopsided without it. I guess I assumed it was short for "the 101 freeway," for example.
posted by changeling at 7:40 PM on August 22, 2010

Best answer: Distinct difference between northern and southern California, as mentioned above. At a new college student orientation gathering, that was a fun, silly way of dividing people into groups, and always split north vs south. Folks from the middle of the state were mixed.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:44 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Like Nothlit, I'm from the south and concur completely on usage here. I have never before heard of using 'the' with highway numbers, and using 'I' (to distinguish interstates from state routes) is pretty common: I-75, I-40.
posted by frobozz at 7:46 PM on August 22, 2010

Best answer: Southern California, yeah. My pet theory about this is that it's the result of all the short freeway names starting with "two" in LA. Without "the" you'd be giving directions like "take ten to one ten to two to two ten" which gets confusing in a hurry.
posted by contraption at 7:55 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Whenever someone prefaces a route number with "the" I immediately ask about what part of the West Coast they're from. There was even a Seinfeld episode mentioning this, a special episode when they were in LA, "What is the DEAL with "The 405" " or something similar. It sounds very odd to say this in New England. The only exception is when a road has a name: for instance, Route 4/16 is just "Route 4 and 16" unless you call it by its name "THE Spaulding Turnpike."
posted by Miko at 7:57 PM on August 22, 2010

Adding that here on south Florida we use 'the' for some numbered highway roads, but not others.

So, you take 595 or 95, but you take 'the 826' or 'the 836.' I'm curious about this now.
posted by bilabial at 8:00 PM on August 22, 2010

I think of this as a specifically SoCal cultural thing, and will mock people who use it to describe NorCal roads. So you'll be just fine using it in LA, but will get some pushback from Northern Cal folks. Unless you're talking to other people from Southern Cal, in which case they won't blink an eye at it.
posted by gingerbeer at 8:06 PM on August 22, 2010

I second Kat that this is also very common in Buffalo, NY. The 90, the 33, etc... are all widely used.
posted by glaucon at 8:16 PM on August 22, 2010

Best answer: Referring to a highway as "the" + number is done in many places, but it assumes a great deal of familiarity. SCal residents are very familary "the 10" is, and Chicago residents are very familiar with "the Edens." So if you're giving directions to someone who has lived there for at least 3 years, you're probably okay.

I've done brief stints in both Chicago and California, and I find this nomenclature confusing as hell. When someone in Chicago tells me to "head towards the Dan Ryan," I stop them and make them explain it.

If you want to be very clear to others, put yourself in their shoes. Assume they're seeing these roads for the first time. So intead of saying "Go North to the Dan Ryan West," say "Take a right on Park Ridge road. After about 3/4 of a mile, you'll see signs for Dan Ryan - take Dan Ryan West." Those little details will clear everything up.
posted by Tehhund at 8:19 PM on August 22, 2010

*ahem* should've proofread...

SCal residents are very familary "the 10" is...

SCal residents know what "the 10" is...
posted by Tehhund at 8:21 PM on August 22, 2010

I'm from Boston, and while I would take offense to calling any of the highways around here "the 93" or "the 1", I'm okay with it being used for highways I don't already have names for. However, to my ear, "take the 10" is grammatically normal, while "drive four miles on the 60" sounds funny.
posted by fermezporte at 8:33 PM on August 22, 2010

kat518 and glaucon are spot-on about Buffalo. 80 miles east in Rochester, though, "the"s don't precede numbered roads with the exception of "the 104," a state route up by Lake Ontario.
posted by thewestinggame at 8:43 PM on August 22, 2010

Angeleno here. You could make people laugh by calling the 10 "The Christopher Columbus Highway" which is its given name. Hah. I lived on the East Coast for a few years and found given name references very confusing. Left exit designations are appreciated, as the 101 downtown can present a rude surprise when major freeways interchange.
posted by effluvia at 8:51 PM on August 22, 2010

Minneapolis datapoint here. I would never put a "the" in front of a highway number. I would say "Go west on 94 to 35W" or whatever. The exception is for roads that have other names: Highway 62 is also "the Crosstown" and in that case the "the" seems perfectly natural.
posted by beandip at 8:55 PM on August 22, 2010

Adding that here on south Florida we use 'the' for some numbered highway roads, but not others.

So, you take 595 or 95, but you take 'the 826' or 'the 836.' I'm curious about this now.

This is interesting to me, because I've lived in southwest FL and, currently, in the panhandle-ish area, with a lot of friends from south Florida- and I can't think of a single time I've ever heard any Floridian say "the ___". I've always just said the road number, occasionally with I in front of it- "Go east on I-10" or "Go north on 75" or "Take a left onto 41".
posted by kro at 8:56 PM on August 22, 2010

I guess I'm bidirectional, because while this Torontonian always calls the 401 "the 401", it also seems perfectly natural to hear or say "take I-95" or whatever when referring to non-Canadian highways. I can't remember any American freaking out if I ever slipped and said "the I-95", either.
posted by maudlin at 9:09 PM on August 22, 2010

Growing up in Tennessee I instructed people to "take I-40." Having lived here in New Orleans for years, I now tell them "take the 10."
posted by komara at 9:18 PM on August 22, 2010

A Southern Californian friend of mine has hypothesized that the reason for calling highways "the" is because they are so monolithic they have a big identify of their own.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:25 PM on August 22, 2010

In Colorado, we called highways highways, as in "highway thirty six" and we called the interstates either just their number or with "I" in front of them, e.g. "Take I-25 down to 70 and then take 70 west into the mountains. Down here in SoCal, though, it's all about the "The". Should we capitalize, then, though? Wouldn't "The Five" be a proper noun?
posted by Lukenlogs at 9:32 PM on August 22, 2010

A Southern Californian friend of mine has hypothesized that the reason for calling highways "the" is because they are so monolithic they have a big identify of their own.

Seriously, it isn't highway 405, or 405 or anything innocuous sounding like that it is THE F***ING 405. If it was possible to capitalize numbers The 405 would be capitalized.

Weirdly, I have managed to make the transition without knowing it since moving to Texas, saying the 35 sounds weird to me, I always just say 35 but I thing my brain would explode if I tried to just say 101. It is, and always will be, The 101.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:44 PM on August 22, 2010

Response by poster: It's good to know that I haven't been totally wrong about this issue my entire life. Before this gets too chatfiltery, could someone with better google-fu than me find any research done on this topic? It'd be interesting to see some type of map of regional variations.
posted by pecknpah at 10:22 PM on August 22, 2010

I grew up in San Antonio, where I-10 runs through. We call it "I-10." The first time I heard it called "The 10" I was really confused.
posted by Addlepated at 10:24 PM on August 22, 2010

Best answer: This thread from 2006 has lots of interesting SoCal-specific theories about why we say "The" instead of "I", including when not to use it (PCH).

Addlepated: I grew up in San Antonio, where I-10 runs through. We call it "I-10." The first time I heard it called "The 10" I was really confused.

I remember being in Texas and telling someone to "take The 10." He responded, "The 10 what?"
posted by Room 641-A at 11:12 PM on August 22, 2010

FWIW, I grew up in Chicago and we called the highways "highways" and "The Dan Ryan", "The Kennedy", etc. -- and now I live in Los Angeles, and it seemed perfectly natural to call 'em "The 405" and "The 10" and so on, but it's taken me over a decade to call highways "freeways."

Having said that: nobody else from anywhere else has mocked me for any of this.
posted by davejay at 11:50 PM on August 22, 2010

I grew up in Texas, so when I moved to South Bend I hated the traffic reports when I ventured into Chicago. I was used to all highways going by their numbers, so when the reporters talked about the Kennedy or Dan Ryan or Edens I had no idea what they were talking about. Even more confusing, some of the names cover multiple Interstate "numbers". Once I moved to Chicago and lived there for a while though, I got used to it, at least for the ones running closer to the city. Never did explore the burbs too much outside of a few where my friends lived. Also got to know Chicago's elegant grid street system very well.
posted by kmz at 12:22 AM on August 23, 2010

From Charlotte, NC... We follow the NY & Chicago examples. It's 'The John Belk' or 'The Outer Belt', but for a numbered road, it's just the number: 85, I-77, or 485. It's has nothing to do with any particular road though... because 485 is The Outer Belt.

The only street I can think of in the Charlotte area that uses a name but not the definite article is Independence. Because it is at times officially named Independence Boulevard, Independence Freeway, or Independence Expressway, we all simply call it Independence.
posted by aristan at 2:10 AM on August 23, 2010

In Seattle area, I've rarely heard interstates mentioned without the "I" and never with "the". State routes are normally just mentioned as a number, such as "520". Up here the two main interstates are 5 and 90, and "5" especially has the problem of "take 5 whats?" if you don't use "I-5."

Interestingly, I've never ever heard anyone say "route" or "state route" when referring to a local highway. Here on the island we have "the highway" or "525".
posted by maxwelton at 3:49 AM on August 23, 2010

Here in NYC, we don't say "the 87" or "the 287", but we do say "the thruway", and "the FDR". I really think it is pretty random as to which way people refer to a road.
posted by soy_renfield at 5:29 AM on August 23, 2010

Cleveland: we take 71, drive on 480, or take 90... no the. I've only ever really heard "the" used in Southern California. When I lived in Boston it was mostly no-the, too...but numeric unless referring to a named highway like the Mass Pike, etc.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:36 AM on August 23, 2010

San Francisco here and I take the 101 (freeway) and the 280 (freeway)...
posted by dolface at 7:07 AM on August 23, 2010

In South Africa we definitely include the' when giving directions for highways (take the N1 north ...). To my ears it sounds strange the other way.
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 7:12 AM on August 23, 2010

I'm in Northern Utah and I say it both ways. I've never had any confusion about it.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:02 AM on August 23, 2010

I grew up in five states, but mostly SoCal and Ohio. As far as I'm concerned, specific sections of controlled-access highways have their own rules, most notably that all SoCal highways are "the" "freeway" and no Ohio highways are either.
posted by SMPA at 8:29 AM on August 23, 2010

I suspect that dolface in San Francisco is a transplant and/or much younger than I am. The use of the definite article when referring to a numbered freeway has long been used to distinguish a Southern Californian from a native or long-time resident of San Francisco/the Bay Area/Northern California. ('They' use it -- 'we' don't.)

Or didn't: it is a losing battle. Sigh. Us old-timer San Franciscans still cringe when we hear it, but it is pervasive. We have no choice but to give up. Newcomers and youth no longer even capitalize 'the City'. They are all over our lawn, and are not going away.
posted by trip and a half at 8:33 AM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just as another data point, I live in New Orleans and we always refer to I-10 as "the interstate." But if I were to refer to 10 specifically, I'd say "Take I-10 West"
posted by radioamy at 9:33 AM on August 23, 2010

radioamy: really? That's so weird! I don't think I've ever heard anyone down here refer to our interstate without prefacing it with 'the'. "The 10" or "the I-10" but never just "I-10."

So did you grow up here?
posted by komara at 9:50 AM on August 23, 2010

In Detroit we take the Jeffries, the Reuther, or the Lodge. Or we take 96, 696, or M-10.
posted by pardonyou? at 10:51 AM on August 23, 2010

Best answer: People are talking about this as a 'popular' regional language variation as if it was just the people in an area came up with the distinction and their opinion matters.

The real force behind this distinction I would say is in radio and TV traffic reporters. In a region if you analyze the usage of these reporters you can probably determine which form their listeners think is correct.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 1:01 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: MeFi's own languagehat on the topic.
posted by Miko at 6:08 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The real force behind this distinction I would say is in radio and TV traffic reporters.

I was just talking with a friend of mine who anchors the morning traffic desk at a major Bay Area radio station and this friend confirms that "the" is a regional difference. It's not used by reporters at that station.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:20 AM on August 24, 2010

Best answer: I had an epiphany about this today, while driving the kids to school (on "the" 134 and "the" 2), when my son asked me which freeway we were on.

As I described it to him, I started using the "the" prefix, then decided, well, what if I don't? So I started naming the freeways that got us to school: "First, we take 170 to 134, then 134 to 2..." Needless to say, he got confused right away. He only understood if I said "First, we take the 170 freeway..." and so on.

And it hit me: in southern california, almost every freeway's first letter is also an english word: 1, 2, and 4 are frequently used, along with a single instance of 5 and nothing else. I compare that to my own upbringing in Chicago, which had the 90 and 94 as the main thoroughfares (with the 290 and 294 coming later.)

When you try to give directions (say, to your five-year-old son), and you omit the "the" prefix, you get something that, to him, sounds like "First, we take one 70 to one 34, then one 34 to two." A kid can't parse that, and it even sounds odd to an adult. Hell, even "let's take 5 south" begs for the response "let's take 5 what heh heh heh."

From that perspective, the use of "the" as a prefix for freeways in this area makes perfect sense, as a delineator that improves the ability to parse directions, with "freeway" implied:

"First, we take the one-seventy (freeway) to the one-thirty-four (freeway), then the one-thirty-four (freeway) to the two (freeway)." It parses much, much better, doesn't it.

Anyway, that's my guess. People just naturally try to phrase things so they make sense, and around here, that's what it takes.
posted by davejay at 3:54 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

er, almost every freeway's first letter is also an english word that is also used for something that isn't a number
posted by davejay at 3:56 PM on September 16, 2010

Response by poster: Brilliant, davejay. That makes total sense.
posted by pecknpah at 7:05 PM on September 16, 2010

Wow, that theory makes a lot of sense. Here around Toronto, most of our highways start with 4, so it's "the 401" "the 400" "the 407", and so on. But the exceptions, like Highway 7, are never called "the 7", but are explicitly called "Highway7", not "7". (OK, maybe drivers just use the numbers -- I'm not a driver -- but I really can't remember anyone saying "the 7".)
posted by maudlin at 7:18 PM on September 16, 2010

But in the East, we also have plenty of highways that start with 1, 2, or 4. Route 1, for instance, the original Mother Road. We have 195, 295, 395, and 495. We have 4, which goes up through the White Mountains to Canada. We have 2, which courses through Connecticut and Rhode Island. 10, all across the Southeast and South.

I think it's a nice theory, but doesn't stand up to the reality that every region has major roads that begin with more common, easily confused numbers. And language just isn't so neatly rational.
posted by Miko at 7:49 PM on September 16, 2010

And language just isn't so neatly rational.

Yeah, but it would explain how a single region might adopt it. Remember, Los Angeles is all about car culture and is highly dependent on freeway travel, and so freeway travel is a topic of discussion much more than other cities.

Besides, in your example, you have 395, and others that don't start with 1, 2 and 4, right? Los Angeles only has two: the 5, and the 710 (the 60 doesn't count, since that's just a branch of the 10.)

Also, a quick glance at the map on the east coast shows grand distances between those freeways (sorry, highways), whereas Los Angeles is a cluster. I would imagine your directions are typically more along the lines of "Get on 3 and go fifty miles, then take the whatever exit", whereas the density of our freeways make even short jaunts in Los Angeles a multiple-freeway affair ("Take the 101 to the 110 to the 10" is a common daily route for people leaving downtown, and you can cover all three in less than five miles.)
posted by davejay at 10:52 PM on September 16, 2010

one oh one two the one ten two the ten, heh
posted by davejay at 10:53 PM on September 16, 2010

even better: one oh one two one ten two ten, if we leave out 'the'
posted by davejay at 10:55 PM on September 16, 2010

I would imagine your directions are typically more along the lines of "Get on 3 and go fifty miles, then take the whatever exit",

You must have never driven in New England. Or anywhere in the Northeast, which is one long city with lots of interconnecting state and federal and county highways.

My drive to work is 1, 95, 128, 114, and 107. In 35 minutes.

Yeah, I just don't think the composition of the numbers themselves is the explanation. The most reasonable explanation I have seen so far is back in the Languagehat post. I also really like the idea that radio played an important role in the development of this habit, and was interested to note it only really arose in the 1970s with the completion of the Interstate system. That's another point against the idea that it arose for clarity's sake, since state and county highways preceded the Interstate system, and would have begun with 1, 2, 4, and other confusable number/names as well.
posted by Miko at 6:13 AM on September 17, 2010

Yeah, "one two one twenty-eight two one fourteen" is how we might say it, and it isn't confusing. Context is all.
posted by Miko at 6:16 AM on September 17, 2010

« Older It isn't over, but it is.   |   When he turned 34 but who's counting, he couldn't... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.