Wednesday, September 28, 2005

There's a 'The' in Your Future

On a visit last week to Michigan, my home state from 1962 to 1979, I found a new wrinkle in the trend of silly names and vanity capitalization. The Detroit-area tourist attraction that was known in my field-trip days as "Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum" now calls itself "the Henry Ford," with a pointedly lowercased the. (Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum still exist, but now the proprietors have tacked on a couple of minor attractions and put them all under the "the Henry Ford" umbrella.)

It's a ridiculous name, of course. Henry Ford was a person, and even an uppercased the would do little to alert the reader that such a minimalist reference to the person's name could mean anything but the person himself. But they went and made the moniker even sillier and more inscrutable by lowercasing the the, as though every printed reference would be rendered in the typefaces and colors of the logo.

Those of us who make style decisions are used to slapping down capitalized thes and even eliminating the word altogether (a lot of us lowercase the the even in references to newspaper names in which it is uppercased, and The Ohio State University, to any sensible editor, is Ohio State University). For many publications, then, the people of "the Henry Ford" have made things easy. For publications that honor the Thes, however, there is an intriguing conundrum. When you cap the The in The New York Times, you're really doing so not because the word is capped in the flag, but because the word is present in the flag. We capitalize names, and if we are recognizing The as an integral part of the name, there you go. (We would write "Los Angeles Times" even if the flag said "los angeles Times.")

So, if you humor the NYT people, does it follow that you should ignore the wishes of the Henry Ford people and write The Henry Ford? I say yes.


6 comments:

Dr Zen said...

Absolutely right. I'm all for the practice of making names, logos and other marketing folderol fit the style of the publication. I have an unreasoning hatred of eBay at the start of a sentence. Authors want to write eBay is the largest blah de blah; I want to write Ebay is the. The thinking for me is that "Ebay" is the company's name and "eBay" is a gimmick, just as though it was written all in caps or with extraneous punctuations.

Niko Dugan said...

Any copy I edit that has "eBay" or "iPod" at the beginning of the sentence will be changed to "EBay" and "IPod," logos be damned. If they want me to put it "eBay" at the beginning of a sentence, they can buy ad space just like everyone else.

Peter Fisk said...

"The Henry Ford" sounds like a sister ship to the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Stephen Jones said...

The obvious answer would be not to write about it at all until they decided to be less pretentious :)

I think you should have given a reference to your entry in "The Elephants of Style"; the rule you give is clear and so is the reasoning. It's your blog. so you can put a free plug in with no problem!

Incidnetally, what you call there MidWord case is often used in databases, (and of course wickis) where it is known as CamelCase. Presumably eBay is an example of Dromedary Case.

Eric "Babe" Morse said...

The Henry Ford is pretentious... whenever I hear ads, though, it makes me think of what teens would dub a local hangout. Like calling "The Peanut Barrel" "The Barrel".

They don't lowercase the The in PR, though. Just in the logo. Maybe they used to and decided it was just goofy. From their website:

"It all comes together at The Henry Ford, America’s greatest history attraction."

TimBlog said...

If your style is to lowercase "the" even in newspapers that use it uppercase, that must cause some wording difficulties when referring to papers such as The Hill, which covers Capitol Hill. I've noticed that the Post refers to it as "the Hill newspaper"; it must infuriate Roll Call, which also covers the Hill, to see The Hill called the Hill newspaper. :-)