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It might also be related to 'The Hague' - that is, that's the way they say it themselves.
Others because of plurality - the Netherlands, the UK, the US. Island groups also follow this - the Maldives and the Philippines.
I've never heard of anyone saying the Syria. But maybe like the Yemen and the Sudan it could be an Arabic influence.
The only ones that don't really match these rules are the Ukraine and the Argentine.
By the way, don't forget the almost obsolete The Argentine! (Speaking of which, I wonder whether this use of the article isn't dying out altogether.)
Iran and Iraq, I wouldn't use an article in English, but would in German. Anything plural, article in both languages. Lebanon has an article in German. I think both ways sound OK in English. I asked my husband and he says, 'Not now, but Agatha Christie used 'the Lebanon.''
Ah, my bad. Well, it's 27.5 years since I studied German...
I got to thinking about Welsh usage, as Wales is where I now live, and the pattern here is inconsistant as the definite article is only used in proscribed circumstances; for countries this seems to definitely occur before vowels, eg yr Aifft, yr Alban, yr Almaen, yr Eidal, yr Iseldiroedd (Egypt, Scotland, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, respectively). Elsewhere I'm on less secure ground: y Deyrnas Unedig (the UK) but Unol Daleithiau (the US); y Ffindir (Finland) but Ffrainc (France). Perhaps a native Welsh speaker can enlighten me.
ETA: but not Micronesia, even though it's the Federated States of. Hmm.
I've heard "the Sudan", but the only one I use myself and hear others use much (that's not a plural like "the Philipines) is the Ukraine.
From the UN Website: By resolution A/RES/47/225 of 8 April 1993, the General Assembly decided to admit as a Member of the United Nations the State being provisionally referred to for all purposes within the United Nations as "The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" pending settlement of the difference that had arisen over its name.
I'm guessing they still haven't sorted that one out :)
In Australia, I've heard the definate article for plurals (the United States, the Netherlands), the United Kingdom (which perhaps occurs as a result of 'the' appearing in front of 'united' in the US and the UAE. Usgage of 'the' in front of other countries tends to be limited to a few African nations - the Ivory Coast. I've previously heard 'the Sudan' here, but it's definately fallen out of favour in recent years, I now most commonly here simply 'Sudan'. I've never heard 'the Lebanon' used here. There may be differences in other Australian states though.
ed.pendragon: There are many masculine countries in French, of which Lebanon is only one example. (Sudan, Congo, Chad, Mexico, Cambodia, Belize, Mozambique, Togo, Japan, to name just a few.)
#17: "The" UK is unlikely to be merely the result of copying the US and the UAE, as I think you are implying. Nowadays the UK is shorthand for "the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" (formerly the UK of GB and Ireland, before partition).
Incidentally, England and Wales were administratively joined by the Tudors in the 16th century, then Scotland was conjoined by the Act of Union early in the 18th, and together they form the political unit of Great Britain. More geeky info: GB was historically called Greater Britain in the Middle Ages, to distinguish it from Lesser Britain (which was Brittany in France). The point I really wanted to make, before I got sidetracked, was that as far as I'm aware the UK has always had a definite article before it.
The Lebanon in pop music.
Of course 'united' usually invites such treatment. 'The UAE' is another example.
Incidentally, how many inhabitants of Great Britain's former colony realise that 'over here', 'US' is understood by a certain generation to be slang for 'useless'?
I have a vague idea of the inclusion of the definite article as referring to a geographical area and the use without as referring to a political entity (I mean in general, not exclusively for Lebanon/the Lebanon); but whether I was ever formally taught this I can't now remember.
Another irritation is hearing people say Eye-Ran for Iran. Same goes for Iraq.
Regarding Lebanon/the Lebanon, I think that the political state has to be Lebanon, and "the Lebanon" a modern usage for "the Levant", a term which became common in the western Europe from trade with the Ottoman Empire, denoting what also became known as the Middle East in more recent times.
The name Lebanon (also "Loubnan" or "Lebnan") is derived from the Semitic root "LBN", meaning "white", a reference to snow-capped Mount Lebanon. In British English, the country has often traditionally been referred to with the definite article as the Lebanon, like the Ukraine or the Gambia, derived from the literal translation from the Hebrew "HaLevanon" (e.g. Deuteronomy 3:25)
I also vaguely remember Stephen Fry talking about this on an episode of QI.
In the case of (the) Lebanon, I'd tend to interpret the version with the article as refering to the mountains, the one without to the country. Similarly, in my usage, Gambia is the country, the Gambia is the river.
With regard to Yemen, the Arabic form Al Yaman means simply "The South", perhaps the tendency to use the article in English reflects an awareness of this.
I always supposed that "The Congo" was so named because it referred to the region around the Congo River.
Has anyone out there ever heard of "The Argentine"?
There's a movie (about Che Guevara) called "The Argentine". I've seem to recall having heard it as a geographical designation too, but no idea what if any difference from simply "Argentina" there may be.
I've had some Americans look a little blank when I say I'm from "the UK": "Britain" or "England" is more comprehensible. Maybe they think it's odd to use the definite article for the University of Kentucky.
What do people in Scotland use in everyday speech? I doubt that they say England. Do they use Great Britain or do they say Scotland as a matter of pride?
I am always amused at how ya'll leave the article off when you say "going to hospital" and "going on holiday".
"Two great countries divided by a single language".--Churchill LOL
DRT#35 We have the same thing down here. There are T-shirts here with "The" in all capitals as in "THE University of Mississippi". (Ole Miss)
I don't live in Scotland but I have had a few Scots as friends. They would either say Scotland or Britain depending on context. Same as people in England will either say England or Britain, or Welsh people say Wales or Britain. Use of Scotland (or Wales) is probably a bit more prevalent for people from those countries than the use of England by the English.
People don't really say Great Britain much in normal speech, except sometimes when they are talking about the British performance at the Olympics where we field a combined team.
England = Polity created over a thousand years ago; sometimes wrongly conflated with the United Kingdom and/or Great Britain; dominant culture and language in the region for many centuries now.
England+Wales = Neighbouring area mostly annexed by the Normans and their descendants and forcibly united with England under the Tudors (ironically part-Welsh themselves); own language, own culture and, finally, own law-making powers again.
Great Britain = Originally the Island of Britain, in contradistinction to Lesser Britain (Bretagne or Brittany, so-called because the Armorican peninsula was settled by Britons during the Dark Ages); formed by the union three centuries ago of England+Wales with Scotland (own language derived from Irish Gaelic settlers, distinct history and own law-making powers).
United Kingdom (also known, as CliffordDorset points out, as 'The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland' or more conveniently 'the UK' for short) = England+Wales+Scotland+Northern Ireland; the Republic of Ireland was formed when most of Eire became independent of English/English-Welsh/English-Welsh-Scottish rule a little under a century ago (actually it was the Normans and their Plantagenet successors, bloody foreigners, who started all that off).
The British Isles = Geographical term for archipelago of islands, including both Britain and Ireland (and a few others) cut adrift from the rest of Europe...
Simple, eh? Well, no, because several smartarses will post pointing out how wrong I am...
(PS Actually I've just spotted this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terminology_of_the_British_Isles and find I've mostly got it right. Neat visuals, too.)
I think you'll find that anti-Americanism pre-dates the BBC.
And that applies to any and all countries: because of what happened on that September 11th, those stereotypical perceptions have been reinforced for generations to come.
Speaking of not understanding history, we've been called Americans since before the thirteen colonies joined into a country. It's not erroneous just because peoples cannot accept we are taught there are two American continents ( North and South) and South Americans are taught there is only one.
We also cannot help that Spanish speakers call us Estadounidense and the Portuguese Estadunidense which literally translate into English as the ridiculous-sounding United Stateser.
Or may I note the arrogance of "the UK", as if the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland were the only united kingdom in the world? Hey, I think I can play this game all day.
I am always amused at how ya'll leave the article off when you say "going to hospital" ...
As an American living in the UK, this bemused me too, until I realised that it's the same distinction that Americans would make between "being in school" and "being in the school". "In hospital" means that same as "hospitalized"; "in the hospital" is just a matter of location.
Disclaimer: I'm probably wrong, but it helps me live with it.
Disclaimer: I haven't lived in all large or small cities in the US -- there are probably places that follow the British usage pattern, and as #49 points out there are places in Britain where they completely abandon articles.
I referred to Scotland specifically because they do have an independence movement
Also, I was wondering if there is a regional aspect to this. What do the Welsh and the Irish say? I'm talking here about everyday conversation on non-political matters.
But it is serious business in a way that makes the Texas and Quebecois problems look childish by comparison.
Scots surely, scotch is a drink. OK historically scotch was also used for nationality but that seems to have died out.
What gets interesting, as well, is when English adopts names from other languages that lead to redundant redudantcy. In America, where two-thirds of the state names are taken from Native American languages, you get gems like the Ohio River, literally 'Great River River.'
Or how about the UK's River Avon, while we're at it?
We can do better than that.
Eas Fors Waterfall (waterfall, waterfall, waterfall)
Torpenhow Hill (hill, hill, hill, hill)
Eas Fors Waterfall (waterfall, waterfall, waterfall) (#7)
Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse!
I understand people in Maritime Canada used to say "The Labrador."
Your reference to the word "Dutch" brought back a found memory.
One day years ago, I was standing on the bank of the Rhine River and a boat with Nederland written on the side pulled to shore. I greeted the boats-man and said, "I see you must be Dutch."
He replied, "No not Deutsch. Nederlander."
Seeing that the similar sounds of the two words was the problem; or so
I thought, I switched.
"Oh so you're from Holland."
I gave up and told him that I was glad to meet him.
The closest here is the status of the Native Americans who are, constitutionally, their own independent nations.
Edit: and, of course, the Texas problem.
We have names for our regions: The South, New England, The West, etc. but on a country-wide basis we all call ourselves the same thing.
Could the fact that we are such a young country and quickly became dominated by one cohesive class (white Europeans) be the cause?
Yeah, because the Irish are so American. For all the pompous complaints I've read about it, I have never in my life needed a word to refer to the inhabitant of one of two different continents. And excluding the Belizeans and Canadians, most of the other inhabitants of the two continents have free reign to call me what they will in their languages, and can stop telling me how to use mine.
I think that here we have uncovered one of the main reasons that the USA is so incredibly popular in the real world, and is not in the slightest respect thought of as self-centred and arrogant. Well done, prosfilaes, for enshrining this misconception in a truly amusing post!
And, incidentally, I believe the words you were hunting for were 'free rein' and not 'free reign'.
In any case, it wasn't the US who persistently informed our nearest neighbor that they were misinformed about what the name of their country was, and that they were in fact the "Republic of Ireland".
I used to get bent out of shape about the use of "American" to refer solely to the United States. Then I read some old letters from the colonial government of Spanish West Florida, noticing with surprise that Spanish officials used the word americano exclusively to refer to those pushy Anglos from the USA.
So the availability of American / americano for U.S.-only use may have had a lot to do with the usages of the Spanish Empire. Spanish subjects were described in cultural or genetic terms as españoles or indios, criollos (born in the New World) or peninsulares (born in Iberia), but seldom if ever as americanos. Not until after the South American republics gained their independence, beginning in the 1810s, did americano become a point of contention.
Anyway, logic choppers could just as easily take issue with the ethnonym estadounidense / United-Statesian or any similar variant. Everyone knows that estadounidense refers to the USA, but it could just as well refer to Mexico — known officially as los Estados Unidos Mexicanos, the United Mexican States.