"the" before country name

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Mon May 12 14:18:00 UTC 2008

At 5/12/2008 01:40 AM, Benjamin Barrett wrote:
>I thought I remembered this discussion before on this list, but maybe
>it was elsewhere.
>What I recall is that during the heyday of the British Empire, the
>British had a custom of referring to regions with a definite article.
>Thus, the Congo, the Gambia (sorry, not the Ghana; see
>, (perhaps) the Argentine.
>I don't know that this explanation was substantiated, but that's what
>I recall. BB

So thought I, when this discussion started oh so many messages ago,
and Benjamin has provoked me to check.  I started a similar chain on
this subject on December 3, 2007 (well within the memory of the
Oldest Inhabitant), with a nostalgic regret (similar to Virginia
Heffernan's on the demise of the print OED) on the dropping of "the"
from "The Broncks'".  (Hint: search for that spelling in the
Subject.)  And lo -- the fourth message in that chain brings up the
former "The Ukraine", and shortly thereafter arises the question of
(British) colonialism.

Which explanation has always seemed right to me.  I note that in
David Bowie's list all of the countries were formerly colonies of
someone else (although someone will surely say "weren't we all?") --
except the two colonial empire states.  As for The Netherlands, one
can put it in either the colony category (of, say, Spain) or the
colonial empire category.


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