The the in The Ohio State University
Readers continue to wonder about the the
in The Ohio State University
what's up with that? I can give the explanation that was given to
me many years ago, but not everybody will find it entirely satisfying.
What I was told was that this usage stresses the fact that there is
Ohio State University; there are many
California State Universities, but only one Ohio State
University. Granted, there are a number of Ohio state
universities (Ohio University, Kent State University, The University of
Toledo, and so on), but there's only one institution named "Ohio State
University". "California State University", in contrast, is the
name of a system of institutions, each of which has "California State
University" as part of its name.
What makes this argument really subtle is that Ohio State has a number
of branch campuses: Lima, Mansfield, Marion, and Newark, plus an
agricultural institute and two research centers not in Columbus.
These, however, are not treated as separate institutions (as the UC and
CSU campuses are, and as the constituent institutions of the University
of London are); they are just geographically dispersed pieces of Ohio
State. So there's just one Ohio State University, hence the
(In an entertaining side development, a number of Ohio state
universities have followed Ohio State down the definite-article route,
complete with capitalization: The University of Toledo (otherwise UT)
and The University of Akron (otherwise UA), for instance.)
Compare Ohio State to Oklahoma State and Oregon State. Ohio
State's logo says "The Ohio State University"; Oklahoma State's has
just "Oklahoma State University"; Oregon State's webpage is headed
"Oregon State University OSU". Well, Oklahoma State is a
system, though if you refer just to "Oklahoma State University", you'll
usually be taken to be referring to the institution in Stillwater
(whereas "California State University" picks out no physically located
institution at all). Oregon State is not a system, so it's just
as unique as Ohio State, but those folks in Corvallis are happy without
the definite article. (Omit Needless Words!)
In its on-line materials, Oregon State uses "OSU" pretty
consistently. Oklahoma State uses "Oklahoma State University" and
"OSU". Ohio State largely avoids the definite-article issue by
using "Ohio State" most of the time, "OSU" occasionally, and never "The
Ohio State" (which would be ill-formed) or "The OSU" (which would be a
strange mixture of the abbreviated and the expanded). But on
first reference, the full form is often used, as in a recent press release
(8/18/06), which begins (the bolding is mine):
COLUMBUS - According to the U.S. News
& World Report 2007 edition of America's Best Colleges released
today, The Ohio State University
has been named 19th among the nation's top 50 public universities, up
from 21st in 2005, 22nd in 2004 and 2003, and 24th in 2002.
The article then continues with "Ohio State" everywhere, until the
final paragraph, where the writer slips into ordinary, rather than
Founded in 1870, Ohio State University is a
world-class public research university and the leading comprehensive
teaching and research institution in the state of Ohio.
It's just SO
hard to stick to "rules" that don't make
sense to you.
An alternative hypothesis about Ohio State's insistence on the definite
article comes from Nick Piesco (who also describes my university naming
postings as "just the kind of esoteric geekitude that makes the
Internet grand" -- which was meant as a compliment and was so
taken). Piesco alludes to an OU-OSU tiff about the use of the
name "Ohio" (and nothing more). From a 1997 Cincinnati Post article
It began in 1993 when Ohio University
went to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and secured a registered
trademark for the word ''Ohio'' on licensed athletic gear and in
connection with athletic events. In 1995 it filed a separate trademark
application for a new ''attack cat'' logo [a snarling bobcat].
More than vanity is at stake: OU clears about $110,000 a year from
licensed sporting apparel.
The trouble began when OU's legal counsel telephoned his counterpart at
Ohio State University - excuse us, the Ohio State University (you
guessed it - another trademark) - and suggested, among other things,
that OSU get the ''Ohio'' name off the cheerleaders' uniforms.
The OSU lawyer thought the OU lawyer was joking. But he wasn't.
Ohio University, with an absolutely straight face, claims that Ohio
State University can't use the word ''Ohio'' commercially.
''Ohio State'' is all right, it seems. But ''Ohio,'' appearing alone
on, say, a red and white OSU sweatshirt, might not be all right.
OU (which prefers to be called ''Ohio'' on second reference) says it
has no problem with OSU calling its football stadium ''Ohio Stadium,''
and swears it's willing to let the OSU marching band continue its
hallowed ''Script Ohio'' routine at halftime.
(Note OU's preference for being called "Ohio" on second
reference. OU's website is packed with references to the
university as "Ohio" (as well as "OU"). In my "University
" posting, I got this just wrong. My apologies
to my colleagues in Athens.)
What surfaces here is another fact about Ohio State: it's proud of its
status as the premier public institution of higher education in the
state of Ohio; it's inclined to see itself as representing the state --
another reason for cherishing the definite article. And so it's
inclined to think that "Ohio" belongs to Ohio State, as in "Ohio
Stadium" and "Script Ohio".
I don't know how this dispute got resolved, but at the moment neither
institution seems comfortable with t-shirts that say just "Ohio".
The closest the OSU Bookstore gets is an "Ohio Stadium" t-shirt and one
that has only a plain "O" ("the OSU Block O"). The OU Bookstore
offers exactly one t-shirt that has "Ohio" on it without some further
identifying material (like the bobcat logo, the word "Bobcats", or the
Mid-American Conference seal): one with "Ohio" plus the Adidas logo,
which of course doesn't pick out any particular institution.
They're not exactly flaunting "Ohio".
In any case, OSU's commitment to the definite article long antedates
this legal spat of the '90s, though that commitment might have been
helped along by the OU-OSU rivalry.
(An irrelevant side observation. Looking at these university
websites, from all over the world, I am startled by the number of
institutions that propose to attain "world-class" status, or some
similarly described goal, by <insert year here>.
There's a lot of striving and boasting out there. But whatever
you do, don't read the "Mission Statement" of a university, unless
you're really interested in contentless administrativese.)
[One item from the e-mail avalanche: EJ Pryor writes to say that The Evergreen State College (in Olympia, Wash.) almost always has the definite article included, and capitalized. Pryor says: "The abbreviated name is Evergreen (never Evergreen State), and the accepted acronym is TESC (never ESC). As a student I was told that the reason for the "the" was that the name should be analyzed not as 'The <Evergreen><State College>' but rather '<The Evergreen State><College>'." That actually makes some sense. Back on the Ohio State front, several correspondents have reported the web abbreviation "tOSU" -- note lower-case "t".]
zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu
Posted by Arnold Zwicky at September 5, 2006 12:37 PM