July 19, 2009

architect frank gehry

From today's "On Language":
“I’d like to know where the now ubiquitous use of ‘the’ as a modifier for people comes from,” Alan Gandelman e-mails. “Why is ‘architect Frank Gehry’ now ‘the architect Frank Gehry’? Obviously, it has more to do than simply identifying a person; if it were just that, the person’s profession or position would suffice. Adding the the seems to me a kind of flattery, an attempt to enhance the person’s standing, or possibly to tart up the prose itself.”

I’ve gone along with that Times style on identification for years, never challenging it. Because our stylebook provides an admonishing lick but no premise, I called Phil Corbett, The Times’s deputy news editor and style czar. Here’s his opinion: “We try to avoid what we call ‘false titles’ — that is, using simple descriptions as though they were formal titles. It’s ‘Gen. John Smith’ but not ‘architect John Smith.’ In most cases, it’s simple enough just to give the description after the name — ‘John Smith, an architect in New York.’ But if the architect in question is well known, that can seem a bit silly: ‘Frank Gehry, an architect’ would make us seem clueless. In those cases, we often use the description before the name, with ‘the’ — ‘the architect Frank Gehry.’ It provides the description without either seeming overly obvious or resorting to the false-title construction.”

The definite article as a fame indicator. Does it really sound so bad in native speakers' ears?

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