X the Y

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This morning's NYT article on conflict at the New School mentioned a linguistic dimension (Lia W. Foderaro and Marc Santora, "To New School Critics, Their Leader Lacks Focus", NYT, 12/21/2008):

Even a 2005 campaign intended to help integrate what one professor called academic "silos" fell flat with names that made clear the programs were part of a larger whole but were tortuous to say: Parsons the New School for Design; Eugene Lang College the New School for Liberal Arts.

The institutions in question used to be known as "Parsons School of Design" and "Eugene Lang College". Although the new names are certainly longer,  they're not exactly tongue twisters — if they're "tortuous to say", it must be because of their unusual syntax. (And of course the names of such institutions are always in practice reduced to a syllable or two, in this case "Parsons" and "Lang".)

My first thought was to wonder whether the article's assertion about these names is true. (I know that I shouldn't be in doubt about such a basic matter of fact in a New York Times article, but …) A quick glance at the New School's home page reassures me. The banner at the top of the page features this text, suggesting that the current authorities at The New School are comfortable with names of the form "X <determiner> Y":

Among of the eight divisions listed on the upper left of the front page, two are single-word proper names ("Milano", "Parsons") followed by  appositive definite descriptions ("The New School for Management and Urban Policy", "The New School for Design"), while two are anarthrous college names followed by similar appositives ("Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts", "Mannes College The New School for Music"):

And the institution's News page includes headers like this one:

So now that the facts are clear, let's go on to the syntax.

Names of the form "X the Y" are common when X and Y are short: Henry the Eighth, Jack the Ripper, Jim The Wonder Dog. But with longer names, especially of institutional parts of a whole, it's rare to juxtapose a name and a definite description in this way.

Commoner methods are to add the parent institution as initial modifier ("USC Annenberg School for Communication") or a trailing prepositional phrase ("The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania"), while some institutions don't bother trying to integrate the parent institution into their name at all (e.g. "Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs").

Because The New School's name includes the word "school", these methods would also be awkward: X Parsons School of Design would turn into "The New School Parsons School of Design"; and Parsons School of Design of X would be "Parsons School of Design of The New School". The option chosen in 2005, "Parsons The New School for Design", might be even more awkward, but it's a close race.

"Parsons The New School for Design" strikes me as having a 17th-century flavor, but my attempts to validate this impression with book titles have failed so far, because the first few that I looked up had internal punctuation and/or syntactic articulation:


  1. peter said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 10:50 am

    Some of the various quasi-independent colleges of the federal University of London have recently rebranded themselves, sometimes with the apparent intention of allowing inattentive people to wrongly infer that they are independent universities. Thus, "Queen Mary and Westfield College of the University of London" now calls itself "Queen Mary, University of London". Because the comma in the name (",") is unvoiced, this name makes the college seem like an independent university.

  2. Coby Lubliner said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 11:01 am

    North Carolina State University was for a while known as North Carolina State of the University of North Carolina at Raleigh. Talk about clumsy!

  3. Dave Bath said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 11:07 am

    Here in Melbourne, Australia, we had an educational instutition "Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology" and known affectionately as R.M.I.T. It was renamed "RMIT University". (The domain name, rmit.edu.au, didn't change).

    So, if we expand the acronym, it is tortuous, and if you don't, you've got a "word" that is impossible to pronounce, so everyone says "R.M.I.T. University". Am I just being too easily peeved by this messy branding, and are there other examples of this practice?

    … and how long can they justify using the "New" in their brand?

  4. mollymooly said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 11:08 am

    When the constituent colleges of the National University of Ireland were recently turned into "constituent universities", their names changed from "University College X" to "National University of Ireland, X". But two of them (X=Cork & Dublin) objected to the loss of their recognised brand identities, so as a compromise they are now officially "University College X – National University of Ireland, X".

  5. Mark Liberman said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 11:11 am

    Dave Bath: … and how long can they justify using the "New" in their brand?

    Judging from the example of the Pont Neuf, at least 430 years; and New College offers a precedent of 630 years, which would take us from 1919 to 2548.

  6. Mark said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 11:18 am

    Seems to me that this is an extension of what's been happening for a while to the names of corporate "artistic" products created for mass public consumption.

    Dragonball The Movie, Superman The Movie, X-Men The Movie, Clue The Movie, The Transformers The Movie, Simpsons The Movie, and Zeitgeist The Movie all appear to be official titles for these films, at least in certain markets or distribution formats. The oldest of them dates back to around 1975, which suggests that as a convenient date for the birth of the fad.

    It's not just movies on which this style gets used, of course. There's a show touring around that features rock star impersonators, called Tribute! The Concert. High School Musical The Concert toured a couple years ago now. Then there was a 2005 heavy metal show called Roadrunners United The Concert.

    While I don't offhand know of any novelizations of movies with titles taking the form of *movie name* The Novel, I bet some exist. For sure, graphic novels (i.e., comic book versions) of older novels tend to be named things like Treasure Island The Graphic Novel.

    So this phenom gets my vote as the source for the usage. To me, this kind of advertising department jargon makes the former Parsons School and Lang College sound a lot more unapproachable, like those exclusive gated communities for corporate execs. Not so much 17th Century as ancien régime — at least to a Jacobin like myself.

  7. Arnold Zwicky said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 11:25 am

    There was a series of Language Log postings on university names a couple of years ago. One of them reported on the odd PlaceName PersonalName University pattern in Anglia Ruskin University, Liverpool John Moores University, and Oxford Brookes University.

  8. dw said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 11:31 am

    "Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey" has a similar syntax and has always struck me as awkward (although it does contain a comma). According to its Wikipedia page it was known as "Rutgers College" before being designated the state university of New Jersey in 1945 and 1956.

  9. mollymooly said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 12:02 pm

    Two Irish political parties:

    "Sinn Féin" split into two parties in 1969; one changed its name to "Sinn Féin the Workers' Party" in 1977. This full form was used consistently with no abbreviation or punctuation till 1982 when it became just "the Workers' Party".

    "Fianna Fáil" was originally called "The Republican Party" in English; but soon the Irish name came to be used in English too, with the English relegated to a kind of subtitle "Fianna Fáil – the Republican Party".

  10. Mark Liberman said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 12:13 pm

    Some instances of "X the Y" seem clearly to be appositives ("Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey", or "Fianna Fáil – the Republican Party"), while others seem equally clearly to be some odd sort of postposed modifier or complex name ("Charles the Bald", "Jack the Ripper"). The examples like "Parsons The New School for Design" strike me as instances of appositives trying unsuccessfully to be complex names — but why the attempt should be unsuccessful is not clear to me.

  11. Andrew said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 12:26 pm

    Names like 'Parsons the New School for Design' suggest that Parsons is a New School, while Eugene Lang College is another New School – with the consequence that there are not one, but eight New Schools (or pehaps nine, the eight constituent schools and the whole). I'm presuming this is not intended.

    peter: something similar happened with the constituent colleges of the University of Wales, and I was told at the time that it had something to do with funding; an institution would not get appropriate funding unless it had 'University' in its name. (Though clearly, if this is true, some institutions such as King's College London have managed to get round it.)

    dw: the name 'Rutgers College' remains in use for one division of the university.

  12. Ellen K. said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 12:37 pm

    Looks to me like they are trying to use "The New School" both as a name and as a description. And, for me, the names would work fine if "the new school" was a descriptive phrase. But taking "The New School" as a name, the "for" doesn't attach to anything. Seems to me, the gramatically correct, but awkward wording would be "Parsons the the New School School for Design", etc.

  13. Mr Punch said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 12:57 pm

    Ellen K. is right. This seems to me to be an odd form of false parallel construction.

  14. Patrick Gage Kelley said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 12:57 pm

    Alright, so not mess up this entire argument, but isn't the name of the institute "The New School," which means (following on Ellen's point) that the syntax is not "X the Y," but simply "X Y." Parsons The New School for Design, where Parsons is X, and The New School for Design is Y with a specification.

  15. Mark Liberman said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 1:14 pm

    Patrick Gage Kelley: …isn't the name of the institute "The New School," which means (following on Ellen's point) that the syntax is not "X the Y," but simply "X Y." Parsons The New School for Design, where Parsons is X, and The New School for Design is Y with a specification.

    There's nothing (before or after the change) called "The New School for Design". If you take "Parsons" as X, and "The New School" as Y, which is reasonable, then the form would be "X Y of Design", which would be analogous to "Annenberg USC of Communication", or "Sloan MIT of Management", which are not.

    For "Parsons The New School for Design" to make any sense at all, the component "The New School" has to be taken as a decomposable description as well as an unanalyzed name, as Ellen K. suggests above.

  16. Ellen K. said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 1:41 pm

    My thinking is, it's trying to be "X the Y" and "X Y" at the same time, and because of that it doesn't really work. It's like a cutsy thing where they throw in what sounds just like the name of the university, but is grammatically a description not a name.

  17. Benjamin Lukoff said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 1:44 pm

    Mark: Don't the movie's names technically include colons?
    Dragonball: The Movie, Superman: The Movie, X-Men: The Movie, etc.
    These New School names would read a lot better with punctuation, though they'd still be a mouthful to actually pronounce.

  18. John Cowan said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 2:34 pm

    I think that the difference between "Henry the Eighth" and "Parsons: The New School for Design" (as I insist on reading it) is simply that the former has an adjective following the determiner, and so is a minor but productive type of NP with the structure "Name the AP" (modern example: Rush Limbaugh the Big Fat Idiot, as distinct from Rush Limbaugh the Harmless Auto Mechanic), whereas the latter is a "Name NP" apposition — and dammit, we write those with a comma or colon separating their parts.

  19. Terry Hunt said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 3:05 pm

    Mark, I can top your paltry 630 years. What of The New Forest, established by William the Conqueror around 1080, some 930 years ago?

  20. dr pepper said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 3:28 pm

    Spaceballs: The Sheet.

  21. Tim said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 3:36 pm

    "Some instances of 'X the Y' seem clearly to be appositives […], while others seem equally clearly to be some odd sort of postposed modifier or complex name ('Charles the Bald', 'Jack the Ripper')."

    Aren't these "postponed modifiers" essentially appositives, as well? It's just that they have become incorporated into the proper name. It seems like there is very little difference between "Jack the Ripper" and "Jack, the ripper".

    And I think that's the problem with these school names. They sound like appositives. "Parsons, the new school for design". But that would imply that "Parsons" is acting as a noun. Unfortunately, in the context of a school name, it seems to me that the initial eponym acts as an adjective. "The Parsons School for Design". Article + adjective + noun + prepositional phrase. In "Parsons the New School for Design", you have a construction that looks like adjective + article + adjective + noun + prepositional phrase. In English, as far as I know, we always use article-adjective-noun order. Never adjective-article-noun. I think that's what makes the whole thing sound awkward.

    (I also think this comment sounds a little awkward. Hopefully, I got my point across.)

  22. Steve Harris said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 4:03 pm

    Seems to me that the problem is that the New School people (and there's a problem with what I just wrote–back to that in a bit) are trying to use the meaning of their name at multiple levels: They want to say, "Not only are we the New School around these parts, but each of our individual constituents is also the New School of its sort." (I think I'm just expanding on Ellen's point here.) If they'd asked for my advice for clear and non-clumsy naming, I'd have suggested

    Parsons College of Design of the New School

    Eugene Lang College of the Liberal Arts of the New School

    Actually, these would appear in letterhead and websites as two-line names with taking the place of the second "of":

    Parsons College of Design
    The New School

    Eugene Lang College of the Liberal Arts
    The New School

    (It appears this may not be coming through as I intend it: I mean for "The New School" to appear just below the college name in each case.)

    This is what is found at one of the named colleges at my institution, for example:

    John Cook School of Business
    Saint Louis University

    Now, about the administrative folk in charge at The New School: How shall they be referred to? Possibilities:

    1) the New School people

    2) The New School people

    3) the The New School people

    Clearly (3) is out, though it's of the form "the X people" where X is the name of the institution. My inclination is for (1), fully eliminating the "The" as a constituent of the name in such reference (in accord with the philosophy, in bibliographies and the like, of not using initial The/A./An for alphabetizing purposes). But one could argue for (2), preserving the capitalization of "The" so as to recognize that word's constituent status in the name. But I don't know what actual practice is for instances of institutions with "The" as initial word of the official title; my guess is a mixture of (1) and (2).

  23. Evan Murphy said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 5:17 pm

    Regarding the "The" in the names of some institutions (and other things), it appears to vary quite a bit: the field of the institution, at a per-institution level, and with the style or the purpose of the writing. For example, at The Johns Hopkins University, titles often have "The" in them, and never "the". More formal writing (see "A Brief History of The Johns…") uses "the" unless it would be capitalized at the start of a sentence. Lists, less formal writing, and other places tend not to use "the" or "The", and often say just "Johns Hopkins", if not "JHU".

    Interestingly, they have style and logotype guides, which state 'Capitalize "The" when referring to the university and the hospital because the names under which they were incorporated are The Johns Hopkins University and The Johns Hopkins Hospital.', but also 'The Johns Hopkins logotype consists of the words "Johns Hopkins University."'

    Other institutions, such as the California Institute of Technology and the University of Southern California, vary rarely use capitalized "The", even in titles (e.g. "Presidents of the University of Southern California", here).

    I don't think I've ever seen an academic institution go by "The ": "The JHU" or "the MIT" or "the USC", capitalized "The" or not. Yet "the CIA", "the DEA", and "the IMF" are all far more common than their non-"the"ed versions, in my experience.

    And then there are things that aren't organizations. Most lay-people say "GPS" when they refer to the global positioning system, but I was stuck in an airport once reading a leftover copy of the relevant trade journal ("Inside GNSS"), and they made a point of using "the GPS" to refer to the United States GPS system, versus Galileo (the European version) or GLONASS (the Russian version). I don't know if those people would say "I followed my the GPS receiver". I imagine not. Similarly, network engineers often use "the DNS" to refer to the Internet's main DNS tree, or its conceptual equivalent, "DNS" for the service or protocol, and "a DNS" for an instance of a server or a group of servers.

    I'm not sure how all this relates to (the?) The New School question, but it's been in the back of my mind lately for some reason.

  24. Evan Murphy said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 5:21 pm

    Oops: the link to the JHU style guide is here. I entirely missed the clever live preview widget under the post box earlier.

  25. peter said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 5:52 pm

    Dave Bath, you said: "Here in Melbourne, Australia, we had an educational instutition "Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology" and known affectionately as R.M.I.T. It was renamed "RMIT University". (The domain name, rmit.edu.au, didn't change)."

    Dave — I understood (perhaps wrongly) that one reason for this was that the old name included the word "Royal", an attribute which in those parts of the world still coloured red (or at least, as in Australia, rose) is neither easily granted nor easily taken away. So the obvious change of name to accompany the change of status from RMIT to RMUT would have required considerable legislative finegling.

  26. Mark Liberman said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 5:57 pm

    The issue of definite articles in University names was covered in a number of earlier LL posts, e.g. here.

  27. peter said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 5:58 pm

    Terry and Mark: Veliky Novgorod ("large new city") is a Russian city established sometime before 862, a mere 1146 years ago.

  28. Leon said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 6:36 pm

    Could be some kind of subtitle–like effect. Also, I think colons and semicolons (as in the 17th century example) can make things clearer: "Parsons: the New School for Design", or
    Parsons The New School for Design

  29. Dan T. said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 8:19 pm

    Movie titles often use a colon before the "The": "Star Wars: The Clone Wars", "Ferngully: The Last Rain Forest"; and, with an indefinite article "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl". But they also use colons a lot without any article at all: "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed". It's just a generic separator between a main title and a subtitle.

    Book titles often have conjunctions as separators, as in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets", but there the ending phrase isn't describing the character but giving him a setting for the current adventure.

  30. DD said,

    December 22, 2008 @ 1:50 am

    Might this be because we aren't used to non-restrictive appositions without commas? I mean, that's how we speak, not just how we write.) It's really "Parsons [School, which is] The New School" — and it seems very unnatural to just put the two together without that tiny 'hey, you know this is non-restrictive' breath between them. Like when your lecturer makes a mistake on the board — you know it's a mistake, but you respect him/her enough to feel shaky about it.

  31. Nigel Greenwood said,

    December 22, 2008 @ 5:44 am

    @ Terry, Mark & Peter: Naples, originally founded in the 7th C BC (or BCE, if you prefer) as Neapolis ("New City"). 2,600 years plus — & counting!

  32. Nigel Greenwood said,

    December 22, 2008 @ 5:52 am

    The reverse phenomenon can be seen in the UK, where we have shop signs such as Boots Opticians, which has always struck me as slightly telegraphic.

  33. Jonny Rain said,

    December 22, 2008 @ 8:26 am

    FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in NYC always sounded weird to me. As if it should be, Institute of Fashion Technology, because Fashion is not a place, but they wanted their name to resonate with MIT.

  34. Chris said,

    December 22, 2008 @ 9:12 am

    The New River is estimated at between 10 and 300 million years old – although the *name* New River is only about 400 years old.

  35. Aaron Davies said,

    December 22, 2008 @ 11:12 am

    @evan murphy: dropping the "the" in government agency acronyms is reported to be an "inside-the-beltway" shibboleth.

  36. Aaron Davies said,

    December 22, 2008 @ 11:17 am

    @mark, re: novelizations: i am reminded of the story of fred saberhagen's offer to do the novel version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein—he had previously done Bram Stoker's Dracula, so the cover could've read "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, by the author of Bram Stoker's Dracula".

  37. Faldone said,

    December 22, 2008 @ 4:20 pm

    And, since these movies are often known by the director's name it could be Kenneth Brannagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein by the author of Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula.

  38. Irene said,

    December 22, 2008 @ 5:22 pm

    Aaron Davies said that dropping the "the" in government agency acronyms is reported to be an "inside-the-beltway" shibboleth. He is quite correct.

    I can confirm that US Federal employees and contractors do not use "the" before agency abbreviations or even some names. When referring to the Internal Revenue Service, a Fed would say "IRS is changing the tax code." Or when referring to the Department of the Treasury, Feds say simply "Treasury", as in, "We sent the memo to Treasury."

  39. Arnold Zwicky said,

    December 22, 2008 @ 6:09 pm

    To various commenters about anarthrous proper names, see extensive discussion on Language Log about the matter: search on {"anarthrous|arthrous"}.

  40. Andy Hollandbeck said,

    December 23, 2008 @ 12:13 pm

    In the original NYT article, perhaps the author(s) meant to say "torturous" instead of "tortuous." Both apply, in my opinion.

  41. dr pepper said,

    December 25, 2008 @ 4:27 am

    "Carthage" supposedly meant "New City".

  42. nbm said,

    December 26, 2008 @ 12:42 pm

    Another observation or two: When it was an independent institution, if I recall correctly, it was the Parsons School of Design. Now that it belongs to the (or The) New School, the preposition has shifted to "for," which actually makes intuitive sense, because it's the New School ['s unit] for design. (And it is, of course, where the Parsons [not parson's or parsons'] table was invented.)

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