The THE Controversy


This refers to the controversy regarding prefixing freeway names with the definite article 'the,' as in "the 101." Some would say it's not actually a controversy.

What does the rest of America say anyway? —KrisFricke


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My parents grew up in the Los Angeles Area, and they say the reason for the prefix, is that the numbers didn't always exist. For example: The Pomona Freeway aka 60. The Golden State / San Diego aka 5. Adding a the made it flow better, considering the amount of freeways in the area. If you just spouted 13 numbers in a row without some sort of identifier, you'd be thought of as loony. Just my 2 cents. — TarZxf

I wholeheartedly agree with this. Consider (directions to get from Santa Barbara to San Dimas): (SoCal style) Take the 101 to the 134 to the 210. (NorCal style) Take 101 to 134 to 210. Not nearly as easy to listen to. —EricKlein

In English we don't use articles in front of proper nouns/place names. You can't go to the Davis or eat at the McDonald's or live on the A street (the only exception being that these phrases can be used for emphasis). — AndreyGoder

Maybe SoCal likes it because it makes the freeway sound more "important". It's not just 405, it's THE 405. Sounds slightly more infamous. —jd

In my experience, NoCalians tend to start using the "the" after a relatively short period of exposure, while SoCalians, by and large, will tend to say "the" for the rest of their lives. — ct

I thought I'd throw in my two cents because I was having a conversation about this at work today. This seems like a logical explanation to me: The people that say "the," if everything implied in their sentence was expressed, would say: "Take the 80 freeway" where as the people who leave out the "the" would say: "take Interstate 80." It's simply a matter of which part of the sentence is dropped. maybe?? -KristenBirdsall

Hey! Could this be applied to Unitrans bus lines? For example, is it "B-line" or "the B-line"? See this page, where they've also added a "the" to the beginning of the apartment name. In the photo, the "the" clearly doesn't exist. And... does it even matter? And if you're from SoCal? Does that mean you'll say "the B-line" instead of "B-line"? Heehee, this is fun. - JenKao

Holy crap, is this really such a big deal? I know I've used both without thinking about it, even for the same freeways. But controversy? It's an article, guys. — MikeIvanov

Listen to the trafic reports in LA and in the Bay Area. It's just simple. It's "The 5" and "The 405" in LA, and "80" and "101" in the Bay Area. The reason for this is simple. Freeways originated in Los Angeles with the Arroyo Seco Parkway. Before the freeways even had numbers, they had names. In LA, it is still common to refer to freeways by their name: the Ventura Freeway (which is independent of its number, is at some times the 101 at others the 134), the Hollywood Freeway (sometimes the 101, sometimes the 170). The traffic reports, especially Metro Traffic Control pretty much exclusively refer to the name, since the name represents a contiguous piece of road, even when the number change, and therefore, in most cases is a better indicator of how the traffic will flow.

In many other places out west, this isn't the case. (Chicago uses expressway names, New Jersey does call I-80 "I-80" but it's the "Turnpike" not "I-95".) First of all, no where on earth has the complex freeway structure that Los Angeles does. Most other large cities have European style rings. Almost all midwestern and southern cities work this way (including, e.g., Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, etc.) Los Angeles, on the other hand, has a grid. Secondly, almost no where else has grown up the way LA has around the freeway. True, new Norcal exurbs are developping along these lines as well, but the long history isn't there yet.

As for it being used as a wedge to distinguish northerners from southerners, denying that is silly. As silly as denying that ridicule isn't aimed at Southerners in places like Davis. Socal is too self-absorbed of a place to even acknowledge the separate existence of the rest of the world, and so they're mostly apathetic about the differences between North and South. You might get shit about the Giants, but that's probably it.

Plus, the only real difference anymore between North and South is the central cities themselves. I can tell when I'm in San Francisco and when I'm in LA. But I can't tell the difference when I'm in Costa Mesa or San Mateo, Walnut Creek or Irvine, Vacaville or Redlands. California just has a case of genericitis, north and south. -JonerikStorm-

Wow there's a lot of comments. I grew up near DC, and been around a lot. Most of the east I've been in does not use the "the". DC, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, the Carolinas, New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania to my knowledge/memory don't use it. You drive on 280 or 380, not on the 280 or drive 15 miles on the 380. There is a "the" for names like someone mentioned like 'drive down the turnpike'. I never heard of "the (highway number)" until I moved out to the Bay Area. I guess I've heard it visiting LA and San Diego before without registering it. I didn't even know about it until the dorms of Davis. Started hearing arguements and a "Norcal vs Socal" thing over it. -ES

Before reading this wiki, I'd only heard of the THE through others who visited L.A. and remarked on it. I've yet to move to California, but I've noticed a lot of commenters here using the term "freeway". This is not unheard of, but it's certainly not common in Kentucky (where I grew up) or Louisiana (where I live now). Of course, when I moved from Kentucky to Louisiana, I got a lot of strange looks for calling interstates "highways". — CherylChooljian

This is a HEFTY page, but I've had my share of debates on the SoCal / Nor*Cal subjects, mainly because being from Fresno kinda puts us in a position of being thirsty for an identity besides Cen*Cal or (as i have been told) Bastard*Cal. See, in Fresno, we have Vons (So*Cal, versus Nor*Cal's Safeway), and we say "the 99" or "the 80." (So*Cal, but I have never heard of "take 80 east..." or whatever.) But, for sure we say Hella (hella Nor*Cal), AND we say hecka (including my DAD), and have even resorted to what i call "doubling up" (which is ridiculous, but i still do it!) Example:

Bob: "Hey, I heard that Brooke was hella sleeping with Mr. Bradley" Ann: "NO WAY, like hella hella?!?!?" Bob: "hella!"

Yeah, and this kind of conversation is TYPICAL. I remember one time i ACTUALLY said "hecka hecka." Its bad...but what else do you expect from Fresno? Nevertheless, I didnt notice the little social battle going on between the Cals until i got to Davis, in where I was frequently yelled at for my abundant use of hella in conversation. Funny how the people whow always made it a big deal were from San Diego...but I love San Diego, so no hate from me.

I love California.

In Southeastern PA we generally call them "route" whatever. Pronounced like "root" and not "rout." So you take Rt. 30 East to Rt. 113, turn left until you reach Rt. 100, left for a mile until you reach the Turnpike. Some are called by name, like the Turnpike (76 and 276), the Schulkyl Expressway (76) (not-so-effectionately known as the "Surekill Crawlway") and the Blue Route (476). The 309 Expressway is usually just called "309." I sometimes called it a "freeway" but I spent 8 years in SoCal. :) Interstates are generally called by "I" and their number, like I95, where more local routes would be "Rt."

But I've never heard anybody call it "the" route number without a trailing modifier (e.g. "the 30 expressway") while I've lived there.

And no, it's not a big deal, but it's an interesting cultural phenomenon. Must we talk only of critical issues?

You know what, keep up all this Nor-Cal So-Cal rivalry and some rapper's probably going to get shot soon. —Domenic "the 5" Santangelo

Growing up we'd either say 80 or I-80, as 80's our main freeway out of The Ville. "Take 80 to Vallejo" or "Go down i-80 to Sac" and recently I've begun calling smaller numbered freeways "the #" like the 5. Hooray! —Michelle "I Didn't Hit Preview" Accurso

It is interesting to note that Southern California is possibly not the only place where "the" creeps into usage with roadway numbers. In the U.K., as I've discovered both through travel there and through listening to BBC Radio (with its occasional traffic reports), the British very often use "the" with the names of their motorways (A1, M25, etc.), i.e. "the A1" or "the M25". Now, I can't try and explain possible British rationales for this usage (after all, they do drive on the left side of the road), but it's possible that they, like Southern Californians, view their highway system as more a fully-integrated network than a "point A to point B" collection of roads. When New Yorkers give subway directions, for example, they almost always say things like "Get on the 1 at 86th Street", or "Take the Q to Canal Street"; you wouldn't hear someone say "Transfer to N at Times Square." Why? Since the subway system is a complicated network of many train lines, you presumably have to be very specific in how you identify one line from another — using the article "the", it seems, reinforces the specificity. So you'd be much more likely to hear "Transfer to the N at Times Square," or perhaps, "Transfer to the N train at Times Square". The word "train", like "freeway" in Southern California, may or may not be included, but is certainly implied when it isn't. Freeways are something like the Southern California equivalent of a subway system (the Metro Red Line in L.A. notwithstanding), and for better or worse we speak about our freeways as we might a massive public transportation network.

In San Diego, where I'm from, I've discovered a weird disparity between "official freeway speak" and the everyday directions used by 99% of San Diegans. The Union-Tribune, for instance, will never refer to "the 8 freeway" or "the 125"; the paper insists on referring to "Interstate 8" and "State Route 125". Local television commercials also seem indecisive, with many voice-overs referring to "I-5" or "Highway 163". One ad for a furniture store gives its location as "two miles east of 805" — a apparent classic NorCalism. These usages are notable becuase, as a lifelong San Diegan, I've rarely if ever heard locals say anything other than "the 15", "the 5", "the 78", etc. It makes me wonder why the terminology of local media outlets doesn't conform to that used by their readers and viewers. Then again, local radio traffic reports unfailingly use the SoCal "the". One more item of note: in San Diego, freeway signs use the word "Junction" or "Jct", which, from what I've seen driving through the Bay Area, makes our signage much more like that found in Northern California than in the rest of Southern California.

... I just refer to highways as 113, or 80, or 5. Or I-5. —StevenDaubert

I wonder if any Linguistic Majors have commented on this controversy seeing that it involves the issue of Northern and Southern California English dialects.

2008-06-13 12:56:23   On the east coast, Interstates (such as I-80) are referred to as Interstates. State highways are often referred to as "route" or "state route", or just by the number "50" or by the name that the local portion of that road comprises (Important location blvd). Sometimes, the "the" is dropped. For example, one might refer to "495" or "495 north". Some highways (such as the DC beltway) have additional names. For example, I-495 around DC is referred to as the "outer loop" of the beltway. I-95 is referred to as the "inner loop". Or is it the other way around? It's hard to tell sometimes, as they are loops... —IDoNotExist

2008-06-14 04:07:01   o hai, Linguistics major here.

This isn't a controversy per se, this is just an example of a regional dialect difference. No one calls the "soda" "pop" and "tonic" regional dialect differences controversial. Some people have kindly given a long history of California freeway names, which would explain the origin of putting a determiner versus not. I mean, even the word for "median" is different everywhere (center divider, parkway, etc)

You can check out DARE (Dictionary of American Regional English) here for more funny things people in other areas say :D [WWW]

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