Monday, July 30, 2007

His The Big Picture column

In a piece called "New Life on the Web for a Killed Newspaper Column", the NYT today opens with a quote:
“The bug at the bottom of the Calendar front in today’s Los Angeles Times says columnist Patrick Goldstein is on assignment,” began a July 24 item on the Web site L.A. Observed. “Not true. His The Big Picture column for Tuesday was killed.”
I hear things like this occasionally, where a title beginning with a determiner get inserted into noun phrases beginning with a possessive pronoun. With intonation as a cue it doesn't sound bad, but the construction strikes me as odd. In print, it just doesn't work for me. If you search for the exact string "his the", you see tons of examples, many from scholarly and other high-brow sources, exactly of this type. I have to drop the article in such cases, probably as part of the broader pattern of not treating articles as core parts of titles:
In The Critique of Pure Reason, Kant argues …
In his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant argues …
*In his The Critique of Pure Reason, Kant argues …
Do other people find the third sentence odd, or even ungrammatical,* or is this a case where I've internalized an overly analytical view of things?

*Keeping in mind that soliciting comments on this blog kills all comments.

6 comments:

Jen said...

I, too, find the third sentence odd. I don't think it's ungrammatical, but it's difficult to read because it sounds terrible. The first two sentence constructions are preferable.

Mr. Verb said...

Thanks. 'Sounds terrible' suggests that your sense fits with the way linguists use 'ungrammatical' -- I might have used the same words here, in fact.

Just saw your post on Nick Cave, by the way ... man, I would have killed to be at the show.

Vance said...

I believe one of Hammett's detectives -- Sam Spade? -- complains about someone referring to a ship as "the La Paloma". This subdiscipline of peevology has a history!

The article before "Critique" feels especially droppable because it's not present in the original.

Mr. Verb said...

Thanks. Yes, a famous parallel there is "The La Brea Tar Pits". To people who know Spanish well, and are used to hearing switching between the two languages, it sounds bizarre, since it means "the the tar tar pits".

I used the Kant example consciously, actually -- while it's typically (though not always) used in German without the article, the article is very commonly used in English, e.g. by Bertand Russell in his History of Philosophy. I can't lay hand on either my English or German version of the work right now (which makes clear how recently I've used them!), but I recall my German version not having an article on the cover, while the English does.

Jen said...

I seem to remember dropping the article when studying Kant in college, though I can't be sure till I look at some of my papers.

I'm slightly embarrassed that you read my post (as I tend to gush), and I'm sad you missed the show.

Mr. Verb said...

Oh, if you're going to gush, Nick Cave is a good place to do it! I can't start posting about music, though: I'd never get another lick of work done.