Being the Ongoing Chronicle of the Anticks, Misadventures, and Odd Deeds of an Overalls-clad Wanderer.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hey! It's not just us!!!

I've noticed that Buffalonians tend to think that one of our little quirks is referring to various highways in the region by affixing a definite article to them. We don't drive on Interstate 90; instead we take "the mainline 90". We don't take I-290 to Amherst, we take "the 290", and so on. Well, guess what? Kevin Drum reports that they also do this in Orange County, California!

Last month, when he was in town, I had dinner with Matt Yglesias, and when we were about done we got to talking about directions back to his hotel (this was a few minutes before I got lost taking him there). He noted that I, like other Californians, refer to freeways using the definite article: "the 5," "the 405," "the 10," etc. Back east, I guess, you don't do this, do you? It's — what? "Highway 5"? Or just no identifier at all, as in "Take 10 west until you fall into the ocean and you're there"?


Kevin's wondering why this is the case. Someone apparently speculates that maybe it came from some kind of Spanish usage, given California's history, but since we do that here too, could Orange County have been originally populated by ex-pat Buffalonians? And given the constant stampede of Buffalonians to North Carolina, are they talking that way in Charlotte now?

All I can say to people not living in Buffalo is this: Youse all sure do talk funny.

8 comments:

David said...

There's actually a Northern California / Southern California split on this. Southern Californians, for example, may refer to "the 5," but they are more likely to call it "The Golden State." They may tell you to get on "the 10," but they will probably call it "The Santa Monica," just as they would refer to "the 405" as "The San Diego." They may use the numbers too, from time to time, but unlike Northern Californians, who always use the numbers, Southern Californians will be just as comfortable with the names.

Paul said...

I suspect it's pretty common. Here in the Toronto area, we all drive on "The 400," "The 401," "The 404," and "The 407." Also, there's "The Don Valley Parkway," but I think the "The" belongs on that one.

jason said...

Interesting... I always thought this was exclusively a California thing. Here in Utah, we don't use an article, and we abbreviate "interstate," e.g., "I-15" or "I-80" (the only freeways in this state).

Our system for naming surface streets tends to confuse newcomers, though -- the Salt Lake Valley was originally laid out on a grid system, with everything radiating outward from Temple Square in downtown SL. Each major street is identified by a number that increases the farther away from the Temple you get, as well as the direction you're traveling away from the Temple: 100 South, 200 South, etc., and the same for North, East, and West roads.

Except just to make it interesting, we don't say "One Hundred South," it's "First South." You can always tell someone who's just visiting or just moved in, because they use the "hundred" in the street names.

Anonymous said...

North of the border, we say 'the 401' and 'the 407' and apparently the same in Montreal amongst English speakers.

or 'The QEW' or 'The Gardiner' or 'the Don Valley' (for the Don Valley Parkway).

I don't know how many people know the Highway 401 is actually the MacDonald-Cartier Highway, but it is.

(in French, it would be seriously odd not to use an article with a proper noun: all French proper nouns, like place names, come with an article attached 'The Montreal' ie Le Montreal)

So maybe we learned it from the French, and you from us. Or maybe we learned it from you?

Another example of what linguists tell us is happening: not only is the American regional accent migrating across the Canadian border, but the reverse is also happening.

VMH said...

Here in Arizona it it 'the 10', 'the 17' or 'the 101'. Now I know it comes from California even though I grew up using 'the' in WNY.

Roger Green said...

In Albany, it's confusing. There is I-87 north - that's the Northway. There's I-87 south - that's the thruway. there's I-90 west, THAT'S ALSO the Thruway. Then three's I-90 east - that's I-90, no article. there's I-787, that's 787, no article, no I (it IS a bypass). The local routes are either Route so-an-so or the name (Route 5/Central Avenue).

I'm obsessed with this topic: The Streets of Albany Were Designed By Sadists - http://blogs.timesunion.com/rogergreen/?p=74

Josh said...

In Mass we name some of our roads - Interstate 90 is the Pike (short for Massachusetts Turnpike). 93 is the Expressway. Route 95 combines with Route 128 and therefore becomes 128 (no 'the'), other highways are called 91 or 495 or 290 with no 'the'. If it's a main road but not a highway we'll call it by it's route number. We do that with route 1, route 2, route 3, route 9 and route 20 although once you hit 91 on route 2 that becomes the Mohawk Trail.

Will Duquette said...

It's certainly not just Orange County; it's California in general. As the previous commenter noted, you'll sometimes hear "the Golden State" or "the Santa Monica" or "the Hollywood", but most people I know use the numbers most of the time. I think the names are common because L.A. is, after all, the birthplace of the Freeway.