I've always liked that game where you add the word "the" to the beginning of famous movie titles in order to make them sound stupid: The Psycho, The Grease, The Snatch, etc. Amusingly, some real-life movie sequels have actually employed this tactic (e.g., The Wolverine, The Final Destination). And then there's that Los Angeles tradition of sticking the word "the" in front of freeway names: "Take the 101 to the 405 to the 10." But what of the various entities that once included the definite article, then lost it? Here are nine such examples:
- The Facebook. It's common knowledge that Mark Zuckerberg's flagship site was launched as The Facebook. As dramatized in The Social Network, industry player Sean Parker convinced Zuckerberg to drop the "the".
- The Pink Floyd. After going through a slew of names in their early days, the legendary prog rock band's original frontman Syd Barrett settled on "The Pink Floyd Sound" in 1965, fusing the names of bluesmen Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. The band's manager coaxed them into losing the "Sound" in '66, but they were still The Pink Floyd when they released their first single "Arnold Layne" in early '67. The "the" had vanished by the time they released their debut LP in August of that same year.
- The Gossip. Many lesser-known bands also trashed the definite article in their name. The only one you might have heard of is Beth Ditto's raucous Portland trio. Founded as The Gossip in 1999, they somewhat inexplicably decided to go "the"-free in 2003, after their original drummer quit. Personally, I think the original name is catchier.
- The Star Wars. The 1977 blockbuster we all know was a vastly different creature when George Lucas sat down to write "The Star Wars" three years earlier. That extra "the" was just the tip of the iceberg. Imagine a movie about a Jedi named Kane Starkiller, his son Annikin, some dude named Valorum, and a planet called Aquilae. Sure, Luke, Han, Leia, Darth, etc. appear, but in different contexts. By 1976, Lucas had nixed the definite article, along with many other details.
- The Silver Linings Playbook. Who knows why Matthew Quick's 2008 novel became plain old Silver Linings Playbook when it was released as a motion picture in 2012? All I can tell you is that the film retained its "the" during casting in 2011, and probably throughout production. The deletion was likely the dictum of its ever-meddling distributor Harvey Weinstein.
- The Little Shop of Horrors. Roger Corman's famous 1960 B-movie kept its "the", but Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's 1982 stage musical adaptation went without it. This really was a landmark show: its success led to Ashman and Menken saving Disney with their work on The Little Mermaid; it revitalized musicals both on Broadway and in film; and it perhaps inspired a later trend for remakes to get rid of the "the". See also: (The) War of the Worlds, (The) Evil Dead, (The) Bad News Bears, and even (The) Bionic Woman.
- The Ukraine. Back when it was part of the USSR, it was common amongst English speakers to refer to the state as "the Ukraine". It's still uncertain how this came to be, but in any event, when the former Soviet republic declared its independence in 1991, its leaders specifically requested that the country be known only as Ukraine, and the world acquiesced.
- The Naked Lunch. William S. Burroughs' landmark experimental novel was first published, against the author's wishes, as The Naked Lunch in 1959. For years, various publishers would release various English-language versions of the book as, alternately, Naked Lunch and The Naked Lunch.
- Jesus the Christ. At the risk of some well-meaning religious person sending me a needlessly long email, I close this list with the Big JC. As you can imagine, basic Internet searches failed to produce any, um, objective evidence as to when "Jesus the Christ" - meaning "Jesus the anointed" - dropped the definite article. Language vagaries over the past two thousand years - all those mistranslations between Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and English - have further muddied the waters. And thus we have a situation where some Christians might actually believe that "Christ" was Jesus's last name!