Monday, October 31, 2005

There's No "The" In Family

Family Guy got put on that one list of family-unfriendly TV shows. I heard some guy talking about it on the radio, and he was talking about how he liked the show and it's the responsibility of parents to be smart enough to not let kids watch it even if they want to, etc., etc. Nice to see he also saw the South Park movie.

But it was bugging the crap out of me because he kept calling the show The Family Guy. I don't even like the show, but I know what it's called. This is supposed to be the guy's favorite show and he doesn't even know the right name of it?

At USC, the extraneous "the" was also there in an email about one of the show's writers speaking on campus last week.

Now I just saw the same thing in this Salon column referencing the list. Aha! Here's the problem. The PTC got the title wrong in its actual list, so everyone writing about it takes their word for it.

That is all. The lesson is, for correct TV show titles, don't take the word of people whose job is to hate TV.


Simon said...

This sounds like a job for The Batman!

Kenny said...

I actually like the sound of "the Batman." It's old-school. It sounds like people don't really know what he is. As opposed to Batman, which might as well just be some guy's name.

Zack said...

My Kinks mp3s, by which I mean my The Kinks mp3s if you wanna get picky, are sorted under K.

You're on iffy linguistic footing, Kenny.

Determiners (the, a) are less tightly attached to the noun phrase than other words are. So titles that start with the words "A" or "The" kind of, uh, don't. Nobody notices them. Nobody cares. They're not very important words. Nobody wants half of their music collection filed under T.

Here's a quirk. The third Lord of the Rings movie (and book, but the movie inspires more acronym-making) is called The Return of the King. The universally accepted acronym for that string of words is ROTK. Return. Of. The. King. The internal determiner survives, but the first one is gone. Why? I can break out the syntax tree diagrams if I gotta. Basically, the first determiner is not part of the complex noun ("return of the king"). It joins the noun phrase at a higher structural level. The second determiner has the same relationship to "the king," but it's embedded within the larger noun phrase, so it can't be dropped.

Also, from the theme song: "He's the family guy."

Also also:
(A) The new Backstreet Boys album
(B) The new The Backstreet Boys album

Isn't the second one even stupider to your ears? Just a little?

Kenny said...

All of your examples are cases in which a "the" is dropped from a title. None of them are cases in which a "the" is erroneously added to a title. It's easy and understandable when "the" is dropped for ease of use, more so than adding it in where it never was.

I would agree that adding a "the" to your Backstreet Boys phrase sounds retarded. Is "the" even officially part of that name? I don't care what the lyrics to the Family Guy theme song are. There is no "the" when the title pops up on the screen and that is what matters.

I stand my ground. This is simply a case of sloppy attention to detail.

Zack said...

Well, my point was that the determiner can come and go.

I would agree that adding a "the" to your Backstreet Boys phrase sounds retarded.

Good. Now ... which of these is more retarded:
(A) The Backstreet Boys are playing a concert, and I want to go.
(B) Backstreet Boys are playing a concert, and I want to go.

What I'm trying to say is, well, of course you're correct, thechnically. The people who make the show put a The in the title. Leaving it out is incorrect. But the thing is, nobody cares. Even the English language doesn't care.

Kenny said...

No, you're still misunderstanding me. The people who make the show DON'T put a "the" in the title. If they did, we would see it, as in The Simpsons.

It's okay to call The Beatles just Beatles. Of course you can drop "the" for convenience.

But it's not okay to call Kurt Cobain's band The Nirvana.

Here's a helpful rhyme to help you remember my rule:
When you take "the" away, it's A-Okay!
If "the" you add, that's very bad.

Kenny said...

Oh, okay... I was misunderstanding your new Backstreet Boys example, too.

I think that comparing band names and TV show titles breaks down after a point, because pluralized band names imply that you have a group of people, each of whom is a Beatle or Backstreet Boy or what have you. So when you add the, you're using it because you're specifying a group of people, not because it is or isn't part of their official name. Singular band names are like a proper name, so you can say Pearl Jam's having a concert, or whatever. I would argue that TV titles, since they are titles and cannot be used in two ways (as the "name" of a group or to refer to a group of people who all happen to be designated as boys from backstreets), are like bands with singular names and should be treated like proper names. Even in the show, Peter is not referred to as a family guy or the family guy--it really is just a title.

I don't have linguistic rules to throw at the Zack, and admittedly this distinction is getting difficult to explain, but I think you can see my logic.

Zack said...

Comin' at you from England, birthplace of the English language, with the tail end of our Internet cafe session.

If Nirvana had a song about themselves in which they said, 'We are the Nirvana,' then yes, I think it would be appropriate.

What if we were discussing a show title more similar to a band name?

Like Power Rangers.

Kenny said...

If you said, "I am going to go watch the Power Rangers," I would take it to mean that you are watching the show, but grammatically I would take it to mean that you are going to go watch those characters, the Power Rangers, and the fact that you are watching them within the show is implied. If you said, "I am going to watch Power Rangers," then I would take to to mean that you are going to watch the show with that title.

However, if you are going to write a list for dissemination in the media, print and otherwise, then I would expect you to learn that the full, real title of the show is actually Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Turbo Supertron or whatever it's called. Because at that point it's no longer colloquial speech and you should know what the hell you're talking about.