Omission of definite article

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 20 14:21:06 UTC 2010

Consistency, however, is the hobgoblin of little minds.

So it shouldn't affect anyone here.


On Wed, Jan 20, 2010 at 9:11 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      Re: Omission of definite article
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Strange stuff (to me) -- many of us have the same constraints in our
> speech, but have difficulty expressing why.
> I think Damien's analysis in terms of time and habit is on a useful
> path.  But instead of "permanence" I wonder whether it is (for lack
> of a perhaps better term) more nearly "habituation", as the OED says
> "the condition of being habituated (to something)".  I'm "in bed"
> because it's something I do (someplace I am) regularly (normally,
> once a day); I'm "in the bed" when there's something unusual about
> it, or specific in time.  I (US) don't say "at table", but for those
> that do, if asked where they are (thus defining a specific moment),
> would they answer "at table" or (as I am presuming) "at the table"?
> Joel
> At 1/20/2010 05:17 AM, Damien Hall wrote:
> >I also still think that all of these ('in (the) hospital',
> >'at (the) University', 'catch (a) cold', 'at (the) table') have something
> >to do with permanency, or with whether or not the state described is a
> >'recognised' state that a normal life can be expected to pass through.
> >(Sorry, I'm not a semanticist, so I think I don't know the terms!) Anyway,
> >what I mean is that there are recognised cultural or regular habits of
> >being 'in hospital' (everyone gets ill), 'at school/college/university'
> >(many people do this), 'at table' (everyone eats), 'in bed' (everyone
> >sleeps). By contrast, the versions with 'the' or other determiners in them
> >are more transitory or less culturally-recognised: 'in the hospital' if
> you
> >just happen to be there or work there but are not a patient; 'at the
> >school' if you just happen to be there but are not a student; 'at the
> >table' if you are using a dining-table to do something else, like work or
> >play a board-game (I couldn't say "He's working at table"); 'in the bed'
> if
> >you (or something) are there doing something not habitually done in a bed.
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