The Case of “The” Missing Articles

It was a bleak Monday morning. So, as required by the Private Eye Union (PEU), I was nursing a hangover.

Then, SHE walked in without knocking, but not without (…fill in with your own sexist comment here).

“I hear you’re a good detective,” she vamped,“ as she leaned over my desk, and two of her self-popping buttons self popped, as did my eyeballs.

“And I hear you’re a bad girl,” I riposted. This was an arrant lie; I had never heard of her, but in my line of business, it was always a pretty good guess.

“So, what’s the caper, sister?” I asked with a nonchalance acquired from years of watching Humphrey Bogart play Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. Over the years, I had also pilfered demeanors from other hard boiled eggs, mainly Dirty Harry, Popeye Doyle, Charles Bronson, and John Shaft. Oh, yeah, I’m bad.

When she told me that some articles were missing, my eyebrows shot up, as did my blood pressure.

She said the main one was “the.”

“So, ‘the‘ is missing,” I said. “From where?”

“Mainly, television.”

“Well television is hardly the bastion of proper English,” I said.

“But it’s so pervasive, and so influential. I fear we may lose the word “the,” completely. Somebody is murdering the English Language, and I don’t know who or why. You’ve got to help me,” she sobbed.

I patted her on the shoulder, uttering a few “There, there”s and asked, “When did you first notice this?”

“A few years ago, when “The Discovery Channel” started calling itself “Discovery Channel,” as in ‘Don’t miss ‘Tasmanian Devil Week’ on Discovery Channel,” she said, dabbing at her eyes. “They got away with that. Then they brazenly hit “The Disney Channel,” recently they struck what is now called “Hallmark Channel,” and yesterday the crime spree reached its height.”

“You mean…?”

“Yes, I just saw a promo that invited me to watch ‘The Top Ten Nap-Inducing Tournaments, next week on Golf Channel.’”

I agreed that this was alarming. “Why didn’t you go to The Grammar Police?”

“I did, but they were too busy high fiving each other for having crossed out typos on the menus of one of our more prestigious restaurants.”

I decided to help her. I’m a sucker for a hard luck story. I’m not saying hers was one, I’m just stating a fact.

“If you’re looking for a motive, it’s Branding.”

“What’s that?”

“Branding is a way of extracting money from companies by promising to make their company name, product, or service become more memorable and/or put in a more positive light.”

“So companies actually believe that by dumbing down, they will increase sales and profits?” She was so innocent. Me? I was born guilty.

“Give somebody a pie chart to drop in a PowerPoint presentation and you can convince anybody of anything,” I said. “At least, that’s the theory.”

“So talking like Tarzan, and dropping necessary articles, helps with that?”

“That’s the flavor of the decade, anyway. Tarzan’s English teachers should have been subject to peer review. On the hottest days in the steamiest jungles, he still wore more articles than he used in speech. Apparently he never learned about personal pronouns either. He shared this defect with Tonto. ‘Me go to saloon and see Sheriff. Him big feller.’ Also they referred to themselves in the third person. ‘Tarzan take nap now.’ “Tonto go discuss phenomenon of Buffalo returning, and subsequent consequences.’”

She wrung her hands and asked me piteously, “What can we do?”

“Just what you’ve been doing. Fight the good fight. Send the guilty companies emails. Start a Facebook page. Keep trying with the Grammar Police.”

I saw that this kind of tough guy talk turned her on. So I threw her a bone.

“All is not lost, though; many of the missing “the”s can be found on TV before big professional football games when the participants say where they went to college. ‘The,’ though pronounced ‘thee’ can be found in front of ‘Ohio State University.’”

“That solves the Case of the Missing Articles. Listen, Doll,” (Hey don’t get excited, I’m not being chauvinistic—that was her first name.) “You look like you could use some cheering up. Wanna work on a couple of cold cases with me?

She brightened. “Of murder?”

“Of beer.”

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