Episode 72: August 23, 2007
by Mignon Fogarty
Today's topic is “the the,” not as in the British '80s band, but as in what to do when a sentence calls for a the in front of a name or title that starts with a the, like The New York Times.
So, listener Rob Jones asked, “Do I have to use the word 'the' twice? For instance, it makes sense to ask a friend, 'Have you heard the Ghost soundtrack?' But what happens if the name of the movie starts with 'the,' like The Fast and the Furious? It certainly doesn't sound correct to say, 'Have you heard the The Fast and the Furious soundtrack?” but logically it makes sense to say it twice."
Rob's right that it seems technically correct but sounds horrible. Whether it's right or wrong, if you write that for your English teacher, you're going to get it circled with a red pen and marked “awk” for awkward.
The "Double the" Issue
To get technical, most style guides don't address the “double the” issue, but I finally found one that does: The New York Times Styleguide. I don't own the book, but a friendly source at The Times sent me the relevant entry, which states that you use only one lowercase the. Their rationale for writing “I got the information from the Times reporter,” instead of “I got the information from the The Times reporter,” is that the article the is grammatically attached to the noun reporter instead of to the title. For example, you could leave out the words The Times and just write, “I got the information from the reporter.”
The rationale seems a little weak to me, because it doesn't address why you don't include the second the when you drop the publication name into the middle of the sentence. I suspect it's just because it sounds horrible, but I was afraid I was going to have to baselessly pontificate on this topic, so I'm just grateful to have found a reference. I'm going to have to buy a copy of The New York Times Styleguide just because it contained an entry that not one of my other books covered. And I have a lot of books.
How to Avoid the "Double the" Issue
Fortunately, my research time wasn't completely wasted. I did uncover another helpful tidbit while scouring my library: once you write out the full title, it's fine to shorten it in later references. Using that rule, you can write your first sentence to avoid the problem and then never worry about it again. For example, I might write something like this:
Have you heard the soundtrack from the movie The Fast and the Furious? I'm in love with the Fast and Furious theme song!
See how I avoided the problem in the first sentence by writing “the soundtrack from the movie The Fast and the Furious” instead of calling it “the The Fast and the Furious soundtrack”? Then in the second reference, I'm free to use a shortened title like Fast and Furious, so I never have to think about the “double the” problem again!
I've been running into the “double the” problem myself lately because some of the other shows in the Quick and Dirty Tips network are being featured at TheStreet.com, so I’ve often been finding myself rewriting sentences that start out like “How's the TheStreet.com deal coming along?” This struck me as an unusual case because the word the is so integral to their name. In fact, they refer to themselves as TheStreet.com with no space between the words the and street.
So I decided to go to the source and ask them what they do about it. Brian Cronk, managing editor of the personal finance section at TheStreet.com, says that in most cases they try to write around it because writing the twice is awkward. But I got the impression that in instances where it's important to use the legal name of the company and difficult to rewrite sentences, he wouldn't rule out using a double the.
As an aside, I found it interesting that whether you capitalize the in titles is a matter of style. The New York Times Styleguide recommends using a capital the in names of newspapers, journals and magazines when you write them in a sentence, but The Chicago Manual of Style recommends using a lowercase the in the same situation. Since the titles of both style guides start with the, I can't discern any bias.
The Chicago Manual of Style on "the" in band names
When Are Double Words OK?
What's a Double Negative?