Reductio ad THE absurdum

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Cindy Boren, "The Ohio State University wants to trademark its favorite word: ‘The’", WaPo 8/14/2019:

Ohio State is serious about calling itself “The” Ohio State University. The grammatical article is right there on many of the school’s seal, logos and signs. Now the university has gotten so serious about that three-letter word that it has sought to trademark it. […]

“Like other institutions, Ohio State works to vigorously protect the university’s brand and trademarks,” Chris Davey, a spokesman for the university, said in a statement to the Columbus Dispatch. “These assets hold significant value, which benefits our students and faculty and the broader community by supporting our core academic mission of teaching and research.”


  1. Cervantes said,

    August 15, 2019 @ 10:21 am

    Well, to be fair, they only want to trademark the phrase "The Ohio State University." They aren't literally trademarking the word "the." Also, it doesn't mean you can't write the phrase "The Ohio State University" if you have something to say about the institution, it means you can't sell merchandise with the phrase. So this is not really all that absurd.

  2. MikeM said,

    August 15, 2019 @ 10:26 am

    So, it will now be known as TOSU? and

  3. Guan Yang said,

    August 15, 2019 @ 10:28 am

    Cervantes, I don’t know of an easy way to link to this, but if you look up trademark application serial number 88571984 in TESS by going to clicking on “Word and/or Design Mark Search (Structured)”, entering 88571984 in the search term field and selecting “Serial Number” in “Field,” you will find that they are in fact applying for a trademark on the word mark THE.

    The mark would be that word in all its embodiments, not just a particular logo or representation. But only for clothing (“namely, t-shirts, baseball caps and hats”).

  4. cameron said,

    August 15, 2019 @ 10:44 am

    I think the people at Ohio State have been driven into derangement by the fact that they can't prevent the people at Ohio University from producing branded merch.

    In many states there is an institution called University of X, where X is the name of the state, and another institution called X State University. Typically the former is the original major university in the state, and the latter is a land grant institution. That's the pattern in Pennsylvania, and in Michigan (those were the states that established the precedent upon which the Land Grant colleges were based) and in many other places. In Ohio the older institution is not called "University of Ohio" but Ohio University, and this over-similarity of wording has been a source of constant irritation to the brand and trademark administering people at Ohio State.

  5. Joseph Bottum said,

    August 15, 2019 @ 11:03 am

    GW is also quite insistent on the "The" in its name: "The George Washington University." Ohio State ended up signing an agreement with Oklahoma State to share the trademark "OSU." Perhaps the school will do the same with GW.

  6. Jerry Friedman said,

    August 15, 2019 @ 11:22 am

    Guan Yang: The mark would be that word in all its embodiments, not just a particular logo or representation. But only for clothing ("namely, t-shirts, baseball caps and hats").

    Time to get into "the" sweatshirt, jacket, and tank-top business. I wonder why they didn't ask for the trademark to apply for all clothing.

    Joseph Bottum: GW is also quite insistent on the "The" in its name: "The George Washington University." Ohio State ended up signing an agreement with Oklahoma State to share the trademark "OSU." Perhaps the school will do the same with GW.

    What about The Evergreen State College?

    I use the "The" or not depending on whether I feel like mocking the institution or charitably hiding its pretentiousness, respectively.

  7. Q. Pheevr said,

    August 15, 2019 @ 1:11 pm

    As I said on Twitter, I look forward to reading about this in Times Higher Education.

  8. mollymooly said,

    August 15, 2019 @ 2:23 pm already sells "THE"-branded apparel, but it hasn't yet been updated from THE to THE™, and THE® may never happen.

  9. ktschwarz said,

    August 15, 2019 @ 4:32 pm

    Language Log covered The The in The Ohio State University in detail back in 2006 (bonus: The Evergreen State College is explained in the same posting). See the Arthrousness page at Arnold Zwicky's blog for much more on university names.

  10. JF said,

    August 15, 2019 @ 5:23 pm

    Reminds of Queens' College, Cambridge, and The Queen's College, Oxford. The 'the' is important to those Oxonians. But it's not the current queen – the last patron was her mother.

  11. BillR said,

    August 15, 2019 @ 6:56 pm

    My usual response to any academically related brouhaha is, “because the stakes are so low.” *

    But obviously they’re whining about all the branding/marketing $$$ they think they’ll lose if they don’t “defend” their mark.

    * TOTH to Canadian author, Robertson Davies, who was the first espouser of this aphorism that I encountered, in one of his novels set at a university.

  12. Steve Anderson said,

    August 15, 2019 @ 7:40 pm

    I lost a good deal of respect for my former institution, "THE Johns Hopkins University", when they dropped the article. Just saying. Not a lot of money for them in trade mark merchandising either way, I guess.

  13. Bartleby said,

    August 15, 2019 @ 10:00 pm

    @ Steve Anderson: Just as long as they don't drop the -s, it's cool.

  14. Robert T McQuaid said,

    August 16, 2019 @ 4:45 am

    Why not copyright THE. After all, Microsoft owns trade marks to the numbers one and zero.

  15. John Swindle said,

    August 16, 2019 @ 4:52 am

    Now The Ohio State University won't be confused with Miami University, Urbana University, Washington State Community College, University of Rio Grande ("Rye-O Grand" – WP), Heidelberg University, or Wittenberg University, all of which are said to be in Ohio and none of which seems to have a "the" in its name.

  16. Victor Mair said,

    August 16, 2019 @ 6:53 am

    Two of my brothers, my brother-in-law, and two of my nephews went to THE Ohio State University in Columbus, one brother went to Ohio University in Athens, and one nephew went to The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Although these institutions of higher education are all quite different, my family members who went to them are all proud of their alma maters.

  17. Jayarava Attwood said,

    August 16, 2019 @ 8:06 am

    I recall The Waikato Institute of Technology back home adopting the definite article, then belatedly realising what their acronym would be… and dropping it again.

  18. Jerry Friedman said,

    August 16, 2019 @ 8:23 am

    ktschwartz: Language Log covered The The in The Ohio State University in detail back in 2006

    Where was it one first heard of the truth?

  19. Ellen K. said,

    August 16, 2019 @ 9:48 am

    Reading the old Language Log post from 2006 (linked earlier in the comments), I kinda get why the "the". I think it's because it's not a single campus university, nor a university system with multiple universities, but a single university with multiple locations, and so, by some logic, it makes sense to use the "the". It still feels ungrammatical to me, but not completely senseless. Like I kinda understand why it works for some people.

  20. Rose Eneri said,

    August 16, 2019 @ 10:07 am

    One of the TV stations that carries National Football League (NFL) games begins the broadcast with a video of each player saying their name and where they are from (that is, where they played before the NFL). The players from The Ohio State University always say "The" very emphatically and with a pause before "Ohio State University."

    Then there is the University of Miami (Florida), which refers to itself as "The U" or "U Miami." In print, the letter u is always shown with the left side in orange and the right side in green. This logo can be seen all over Florida, including on its affiliated hospital buildings. NFL players from U Miami introduce themselves as being from just "The U" with strong emphasis on the "u."

    The prosody used to convey a trademark is very interesting.

  21. Mark Metcalf said,

    August 16, 2019 @ 10:09 am

    A former colleague (and graduate of The Ohio State University) explained that his first essay in freshman English was corrected because he wrote "Ohio State University" and not "The Ohio State University".

    I believed him. Like all true alumni of that institution, he had an assortment of least a dozen school polo shirts which he wore to work throughout the football season.

  22. ktschwarz said,

    August 16, 2019 @ 11:34 am

    Jerry Friedman: Where was it one first heard of the truth?
    That poem is the source of the band name The The. (Their capitalization.)

    The Chicago Manual of Style tries to push back against school-booster capitalization, though they recognize that you can't win when fighting the client:

    Q. … most respected copyeditors do not capitalize “the” when it also functions as an article in a sentence, as in “We evaluated the University of Texas’s enrollment data.” I have met with staunch resistance to lowercasing this “the,” especially from coworkers who happened to attend the university in question. Will you please resolve this for me?

    A. Chicago style is to lowercase “the” in this context, although we understand that school spirit and corporate pride often overrule Chicago when it comes to in-house publications. Even some University of Chicago publications uppercase “the University” against the recommendation of CMOS. So if UT boosters want the extra oomph from capping the T, you might have to bow to their wishes.

  23. Sean Ian Denis Richardson said,

    August 16, 2019 @ 12:07 pm

    I am quite certain I remember in my youth buying and wearing a The The t-shirt (a musical act from the U.K.). A more on point jest might be t-shirts printed with The, and combinations of one or two of University, Fraternity, Sorority, Team, etc.

  24. Jakub Wilk said,

    August 16, 2019 @ 4:33 pm

    TESS is a usability disaster, but if you know the serial number, you can use TSDR instead:

  25. David Morris said,

    August 16, 2019 @ 5:51 pm

    Jayarava: In Australia, the South Hobart Institute of Technology is probably just a joke by mainlanders. If it *is* real, I don't know which is worse: 'SHIT' or 'The SHIT'.

  26. Rodger C said,

    August 17, 2019 @ 11:48 am

    I can hear them cheering now: "SHIT IS THE SHIT!"

  27. Richard Hershberger said,

    August 18, 2019 @ 7:31 am

    My brother was a professor at Miami University of Ohio. His theory about OSU's "The" fetish was that it was to emphasize the school's status as the premier public university in Ohio despite its being about fifty years younger than some others, such as Miami. In other words, it is overcompensation for status insecurity. Quite needless, too. While Miami has many fine qualities, no one thinks it a threat to OSU's position.

  28. Brian D Joseph said,

    August 19, 2019 @ 9:00 am

    In my Autumn 2007 Commencement address at my home institution, (The) Ohio State University (see, I advanced the linguistic argument that while one can say "a student from the University of Chicago" or "a University of Chicago student" and "a student from The Ohio State University", one cannot say "*a The Ohio State University student" — rather "an Ohio State University student" is all that is possible. So the "The" would seem by that argument not to be part of the name itself, whatever the university or the trademark office might say. Fortunately, I was not booed out of the arena or banned from campus for taking on this crucial bit of OSU self-identity! (:

  29. Philip Anderson said,

    August 19, 2019 @ 2:54 pm

    The queen in whose honour The Queen’s College (often just Queen’s College though, it’s not that important) was named was Philippa of Hainault, back in 1341, long before the late Queen Mother’s time. Queens’ College, Cambridge, was founded and endowed by two queens hence the differently-placed apostrophe, which is important.
    Each university also has a St John’s College, but named after different saints!

  30. Coby Lubliner said,

    August 19, 2019 @ 6:15 pm

    At UC Berkeley, at one time, the Chancellor's chief deputy (now called Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost) was called The Vice Chancellor, with "The" pronounced with a long e. Needless to say, he or she was often referred to as "the Thee Vice Chancellor".

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