Band names in the

Neal Whitman on the Grammar Girl website on the 14th: “Why Some Band Names Take “The” and Others Don’t”. The Beatles (not Beatles) but Led Zeppelin (not The Led Zeppelin). And some — whatever the band’s own naming practices — sometimes go either way: (the) Talking Heads.

The core of Neal’s analysis is that it has to do with how people tend to view the bands. From his piece:

A general rule about band names and the definite article is that plural band names that suggest that they refer to the individual band members tend to get a the. , It’s easiest to explain with an example. Let’s take the nominal phrase Exploding Pickle. Now suppose that Squiggly, Aardvark, and Fenster have formed a band and named it the Exploding Pickles. This name suggests that Squiggly is an Exploding Pickle, as are Aardvark and Fenster. Not literally, of course, but in a figurative way: We have to redefine the phrase Exploding Pickle so that it means “any member of the set made up of Squiggly, Aardvark, and Fenster.” The definite article emphasizes that these are the only Exploding Pickles.

This rule also explains why speakers tend to add the to some band names that don’t already have it, but not to others. Article-free bands such as Eagles and Talking Heads began to appear in the 1970s. But these bands, and later ones, such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, often end up with a the in front of their name anyway, because you imagine that each member of these bands is an Eagle, a Talking Head, or a Red Hot Chili Pepper.

[Footnote: The rule applies only to band names in referential positions. As attributive modifiers, they are almost universally anarthrous: some Beatles records, not some The Beatles records.]

Arthrousness has a considerable history on Language Log and this blog. Google on arthrous to get a bunch of hits. (In Geoff Pullum’s postings, the topic is treated as a matter of weak vs . strong name, but that’s hard to search for.) A sample posting: Mark Liberman on 6/16/13, on “Ambiguously arthrous band names”, here, with some links.

4 Responses to “Band names in the

  1. rjp Says:

    But what about the excellent English band “The The”?

  2. thnidu Says:

    I keep wanting to say/write “arthrosity”, but it sounds too much like a form of arthritis.

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