What would Henry Higgins do?
January 8, 2011 10:46 AM   Subscribe

What happened to the "the?" As in "the Congo" or "the Ivory Coast"

Yes, I've seen this AskMe regarding the Ukraine. Does the same attitude hold true for the countries listed above?

As a kid in school we learned about the principle products of the Congo and the Ivory Coast. Now I hear newscasters discussing those countries leaving out the initial "the." Would that be because it's assumed to be a bad, bad colonialist habit, as is implied in the Ukraine thread? If so, phooey.
perversely, I like to say "Rhodesia" : home of all the great chrome of the 1950s! Sue me?
posted by BostonTerrier to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Well, Ivory Coast is actually Côte d'Ivoire, so the "the" is an arbitrary language conversion, and it's just Democratic Republic of Congo. It's like calling Gorillaz the Gorillaz.
posted by cmoj at 10:54 AM on January 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Netherlands is still used more often than not, in my experience.
posted by J. Wilson at 11:05 AM on January 8, 2011

I think it is a quirk of language. I don't think it is colonialism, because their are none colonial places that we do it to - like the Bronx.

I also do not think it is unique to English - like Las Vegas
posted by Flood at 11:07 AM on January 8, 2011

The same thing happened with Sudan but for some reason, my visa says "Republic of The Sudan."
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 11:24 AM on January 8, 2011

I think at some point it has been taken as an colonialist convention; despite it really not having that intention as far as I know. For what it's worth, I put "the" in front of those place names, even the Ukraine, usually.
posted by spaltavian at 11:37 AM on January 8, 2011

The Gambia is another example. I think properly it's The Republic of The Gambia, but most commonly just called Gambia these days.
posted by Ahab at 11:54 AM on January 8, 2011

The same thing happened with Sudan but for some reason, my visa says "Republic of The Sudan."
Again, that's a language translation thing. Some Arabic countries are defined in the Arabic name and just carry it across. There's a joke about Lebanon formerly being "The Lebanon" until the Syrians came and stole the definite article.
posted by dougrayrankin at 12:25 PM on January 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have always thought it was part of the difference between speaking English and speaking American. I've noticed it with place names like the countries you mention, but also just places in any town - English speakers say "to hospital" and "to University", which sound really weird to American ears even though we do the exact same thing with "to church" and "to school".
posted by foobario at 1:15 PM on January 8, 2011

"The matter is not trivial or straightforward," says Geoffrey K. Pullum of Language Log. The difference is between "strong" proper nouns and "weak" ones. "Weak" ones require definite articles. Check out these posts on the subject:
Syntax Under Pressure
Language Log Is Strong
Around the Water Cooler
posted by sarling at 1:28 PM on January 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

I like to say "Rhodesia"

I think the idea is to be respectful towards a people by calling their country whatever name they decide for it.
posted by auto-correct at 2:11 PM on January 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

Consider also "the United States". The use of the definite article there is far from a case of "colonialist habit". Some place names contain articles, some do not, and there isn't any discernable overarching pattern or meaning to it.

It seems like in most cases where people have stopped using a customary article in the English name of a nation, it's an attempt to bring the English name in line with the name in its native language. "Côte d'Ivoire", for example, doesn't have a "La", so its translation, "Ivory Coast", shouldn't have a "The", or so the argument goes. You can read politics into this if you want, but it's the sort of thing that usage purists would insist on regardless of whether the natives care or not.
posted by baf at 2:42 PM on January 8, 2011

As happened in 1990 when indepenedent Ukraine recided it didn't want to be known as "the Ukraine" any more?
posted by Rash at 2:44 PM on January 8, 2011

Democratic Republic of (the) Congo is different from the Republic of (the) Congo. I generally shorten DRC as, well, DRC and refer to Republic of Congo as the smaller one.

Like baf pointed out for Cote d'Ivoire, in Kongo (Repubilika ya Kongo), Lingala (Republiki ya Kongo), and French (Republique du Congo), neither R of C nor DRC have a definite article. The ya and du translate as of.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:05 PM on January 8, 2011

ChuraChura, the French name does have a definite article; "du" is a contraction of "de le", i.e. "of the".
posted by shponglespore at 3:51 PM on January 10, 2011

^ Oops... French was a while ago. Well, there's no article in Lingala or Kongo.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:36 PM on January 10, 2011

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