Maura Magazine | The Definite Article

The Definite Article

Years ago, I was in a khaki Volvo coupe with some friends; Kyra drove, and AJ had stereo duty. He plugged in his iPod and said, “This is the band that ruined Dale’s and my life.” As the faux intro to Refused’s “The Deadly Rhythm” swaggered in, Kyra exclaimed, “Oh I love The Refused!” And just like that, the whole night burst. “The Refused?” AJ said. “The?” Kyra transformed the band from a verb to a noun—a variant that made the difference absolute.

There is not another instance in English where the displacement of a single word yields such muddle as when “the” is used or forgotten at the front of a band’s name. The lack of a definitive article changes the meaning and directive of the band upon initial discovery. Can you imagine trying to talk about Pete Townshend without the definitive? “Who”? The Fab Four most certainly called themselves “The Beatles.” Likewise: “The Crystals,” “The MC5,” “The Maine.” And so on.

“Leaving ‘The’ off or including it makes some kind of rhetorical point,” said Jesse Shiedlower, the editor-at-large of the Oxford English Dictionary. “Like The Beatles or The Animals or The Rolling Stones—it suggests it’s the individual members of the band making up the group. A Beatle, an Animal, a Rolling Stone. And the plurality is important.”

“The Cure” is probably the best “The” band name: It represents a panacea, an answer to listeners’ problems. And to some people, that’s exactly what this band became. Would “Cure” have been a less successful band? We will never know. But frankly, I don’t know what to do with “Cure.” Cure what? Cure whom?

“Adding ‘The’ is like taking responsibility and saying ‘This is us’,” said Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist of the caterwauling Swedish garage act The Hives. [...]