Author Topic: the most powerful word in the English language?  (Read 356 times)

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the most powerful word in the English language?
« on: 01 February 2020, 22:50:44 »
Some excerpts from another interesting and useful article about the definite article.

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‘The’. It’s omnipresent; we can’t imagine English without it. But it’s not much to look at. It isn’t descriptive, evocative or inspiring. Technically, it’s meaningless. And yet this bland and innocuous-seeming word could be one of the most potent in the English language.<...>

‘The’ tops the league tables of most frequently used words in English, accounting for 5% of every 100 words used. <...>

But although ‘the’ has no meaning in itself, “it seems to be able to do things in subtle and miraculous ways,” says Michael Rosen, poet and author. Consider the difference between ‘he scored a goal’ and ‘he scored the goal’. <...>

The British philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote a paper in 1905 called On Denoting, all about the definite article. <...>

Lynne Murphy, professor of linguistics at the University of Sussex, pointed out how strange it is that our most commonly used word is one that many of the world’s languages don’t have. And how amazing English speakers are for getting to grips with the myriad ways in which it’s used. <...>

English speakers learning a language with no equivalent of ‘the’ also struggle and might overcompensate by using words like ‘this’ and ‘that’ instead. <...>

A more personal, emotional topic might have fewer instances of ‘the’ than something more formal. ‘The’ appears most frequently in academic prose, offering a useful word when imparting information – whether it’s scientific papers, legal contracts or the news. Novels use ‘the’ least, partly because they have conversation embedded in them. <...>

According to Culpeper, men say ‘the’ significantly more frequently. <...>

Those in higher status positions also use ‘the’ more – it can be a signal of their prestige and (self) importance. <...>

According to Murphy, “‘The’ makes the group seem like it’s a large, uniform mass, rather than a diverse group of individuals.” It’s why Trump was criticised for using the word in that context during a 2016 US presidential debate. <...>

‘The’ deserves to be celebrated. The three-letter word punches well above its weight in terms of impact and breadth of contextual meaning. It can be political, it can be dramatic – it can even bring non-existent concepts into being.