Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 26, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

HIGHWAY LINGUISTICS....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"?

Or what? The odd thing is that the definite article habit isn't quite universal in California, though in my experience it's pretty close. Highway 99, for example, usually seems to be referred to as "highway 99." Ditto for the famously scenic Highway 1. Other state highways vary.

Anyway, this is apropos of nothing in particular. Just curious. How do you do it in your state? And does anyone happen to know where the linguistic variation comes from?

UPDATE: Just to clear something up, we also frequently refer to freeways by name, just like everyone else: the Santa Monica Freeway, the Garden Grove Freeway, the San Diego Freeway, etc. It's only when we refer to highways by number that we do it differently from the rest of the country.

Also, several commenters tell me that using the definite article is a Southern California thing, not a California thing. I stand corrected.

In any case, apparently it's spreading. It appears to have started in Los Angeles, then spread down to San Diego, and has now moved north as far as San Luis Obispo or maybe even Monterey. San Franciscans, as usual, are aghast at this boorish cultural imperialism. More here and here.

UPDATE 2: So far, no good suggestions about where this habit came from. Lampwick suggests maybe it comes from a Spanish language usage, though that doesn't seem too likely to me. Another common suggestion is that we used to refer to all our freeways by name, and then just kept the "the" when number references became more common. This also doesn't strike me as right since (a) lots of other areas have names for highways but don't use "the" when they refer to them by number, and (b) there are some freeways in Southern California that have never been commonly called by anything other than their number.

So I don't know. If I had to take a guess, I'd say maybe some traffic reporter started the "the" trend years ago and then it took over, just like "sigalert." But that's just a guess. If anyone has a better idea, let us know.

Kevin Drum 10:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (153)

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Comments

where I come from, interstate 80 is I-80, and no other road matters.

Posted by: dan on July 26, 2008 at 10:45 PM | PERMALINK

As a lifelong resident of the I-95 corridor, it is weird to hear California freeways referred to by definite article. Growing up in NJ, we always just referred to our highways by number (80, 4, 17, 20,95), and my grandparents use to call them "route 4" "route 80" etc. and Route 1 is Route 1 not "1", at least where I am from.

Posted by: Just an Apikores on July 26, 2008 at 10:47 PM | PERMALINK

I live in Washington state but just finished a drive around the country and most places the interstates are referred to as I-90 or I-5. In Seattle highway 99 is still called that in sections but it has other names along its route.

In Chicago freeways are referred to by name as in The Dan Ryan Expressway (I think).

Posted by: Ekim on July 26, 2008 at 10:47 PM | PERMALINK

for CT and adjoining states:

No definite article.

"Take 95 up to New Haven, switch over to 91, then follow 691 til you get to Exit 5."

State routes are "routes" (pronounced 'roots') with no article, and the word 'route' is dropped for polysyllabic numbers.

"You can either take Route 10 or just follow 44."

Posted by: lampwick on July 26, 2008 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

Freeways are often referred to by name in California too, of course. The Garden Grove Freeway, the Santa Monica Freeway, the San Diego Freeway, etc. But when we use the number, it's more often than not preceded by "the."

Posted by: Kevin Drum on July 26, 2008 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

No articles in South Carolina-- just take 26 to the beach or 85 to Atlanta.

Do you guys really call it "THE OC" as well?

Posted by: teresa on July 26, 2008 at 10:53 PM | PERMALINK

Traffic and news reports in the NY area often add "I" (interstate): "I-95, I-91." Not all the time, but that would be the 'official' way of identifying a highway, whereas in conversation you leave out the "I".

Posted by: lampwick on July 26, 2008 at 10:55 PM | PERMALINK

No articles here in Washington. You know who else uses articles for highways? The English.

Posted by: Boronx on July 26, 2008 at 10:55 PM | PERMALINK

I think it's limited to "the O. C." Or at least southern California.

Posted by: B on July 26, 2008 at 10:56 PM | PERMALINK

Teresa: No, "The OC" is an invention of Fox. I have no idea where they got it from. I suppose it's possible that it was some kind of teen slang that sprang up in Newport Beach in the 90s, but I've lived in Orange County all my life and I had never heard it before. Since the show got famous, of course, we do frequently refer to it that way, but only ironically.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on July 26, 2008 at 10:59 PM | PERMALINK

What is a 'freeway', anyway? We just call them highways. 'Freeway' is another Californiaism, it seems to me. Why don't you say Freeway 99, if it's a freeway?

Posted by: confused on July 26, 2008 at 10:59 PM | PERMALINK

In Minnesota, no article, just a reference by number. "35W" "169" "101", etc. When the bridge collapsed it was "the 35W bridge collapsed" but also "35W is closed because of the bridge collapse" (i.e., "the" was used for the bridge not for the freeway).

Posted by: Greg Abbott on July 26, 2008 at 10:59 PM | PERMALINK

In Nashville, it's I-40 or I-65. Otherwise, it varies, depending on whether you need to distinguish among US highways, state highways, and county roads. Also, when *I* was growing up in SC, it was I-26 and I-85--but then I'm old enough to remember *before* there were interstates at all.

Posted by: David in Nashville on July 26, 2008 at 10:59 PM | PERMALINK

Adding the in front of highway names seems to be a Southern California issue. In the San Francisco Bay area 'the' is almost never pre-pended, and the same applies to the Sacramento area and all of California north of San Francisco as far as I can tell. Indeed, my Southern California habits in this regard have gotten on the nerves of SF Bay Area natives more than once.

Posted by: walrus on July 26, 2008 at 11:03 PM | PERMALINK

In Alaska, there are four highways that are nominally part of the interstate system. They are numbered, but nobody knows or cares what the numbers are. We go by names: the Glenn Highway, Seward Highway, Parks Highway, Richardson Highway, etc.

For added confusion, the interstate numbers do not coincide with the named highways.

Posted by: Grumpy on July 26, 2008 at 11:05 PM | PERMALINK

I grew up in Northern California and went to college in Southern California. Now I live in the Northeast.

"The #" is definitely a uniquely Southern California phenomenon. Folks from the Bay Area definitely don't say it, nor have I ever heard it out here. When I moved south for college, all the folks from the Bay Area noticed the difference.

I've always thought it came from the way freeways developed in LA. The older freeways ("The Pasadena Freeway," "The Hollywood Freeway") all were referred to by proper name originally--the numbers came later. So when the freeway system expanded the "the" stuck. Just a hypothesis, though.

Out in the Northeast, certain roads are typically referred to by name rather than their number (the New Jersey Turnpike, eg). Otherwise, my experience is similar to lampwick's.

Posted by: gaucho on July 26, 2008 at 11:07 PM | PERMALINK

Although in Chicago "expressways" are often referred to with their names, "The Edens" or "The Kennedy," the typical grammar for expressways is the same as for street names when it comes to their numbers.

We never would say "The Michigan Avenue is bumper to bumper," or "The 55 is stop and go."

Posted by: on July 26, 2008 at 11:08 PM | PERMALINK

Although in Chicago "expressways" are often referred to with their names, "The Edens" or "The Kennedy," the typical grammar for expressways is the same as for street names when it comes to their numbers.

We would not say "The Michigan Avenue is bumper to bumper," or "The 55 is stop and go."

Posted by: on July 26, 2008 at 11:09 PM | PERMALINK

Up heah in Maine, we only have one interstate. We call it the Pike. "Take the Pike up to____ (north)." Or, "take the Pike down to____ (south)."
Maine, the way life should be.

Posted by: Innocent Bystander on July 26, 2008 at 11:09 PM | PERMALINK

I lived in Dallas for 6 years after being in California for 31. They always called me on it - "it's not THE 12, it's Loop 12, it's 183 not THE 183!".

Since then I've traveled across the country a bit and I noticed they don't say "the" before the number.

I think it's a California thing.

Posted by: Bill Morgan on July 26, 2008 at 11:09 PM | PERMALINK

What's the usage in Spanish? I would think this could be the sort of situation where Spanish users employ the definite article. And SC is certainly an area of the country where such usage could have an effect.


Posted by: lampwick on July 26, 2008 at 11:11 PM | PERMALINK

As a tangent, some visitors to Alaska thought it odd that we have a lot of "Old __ Highway" designations. That is, new highways get built, but the old routes remain in use and retain the original name, with "old" added. Does this happen elsewhere?

Posted by: Grumpy on July 26, 2008 at 11:12 PM | PERMALINK

Canadian usage:

Toronto: THE 401, THE Gardiner, THE DVP, THE 400, THE 404. THE QEW.... but in Vancouver its Highway 1, 91, 99 etc. No particular reason I can think of though official attempts to rename these highways in favour of local luminaries or incidents tend to fail in common parlance. My guess is that the local radio helo/aero reporters are responsible for this simplifying consistency.

But the locals in Vancouver have to suffer with helicopter reports about the Ironworkers' Memorial Bridge when most everyone else refers to it as the Second Narrows Bridge. Possibly the naming convention applies to prominent bridges as well?

I am guessing that the direction of common NAM english is in the direction of THE acronym. Using Highway seems superfluous unless there is an insufficiency of these, as there is in Vancouver for instance.

Posted by: Anon on July 26, 2008 at 11:13 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I think you meant "I, like other SOUTHERN Californians..." "The ..." is a shibboleth which identifies you as being from So Cal.
You'll never hear someone from Northern California refer to "the 5", "the 101", "the 80", etc. (Unless we're mocking someone from LA.)

Posted by: SC on July 26, 2008 at 11:14 PM | PERMALINK

It's the same here in Canada, or Ontario at least - no one calls it "Highway 401" or "Highway 400", it's "the 401" or "the 400".

Posted by: BeingThere on July 26, 2008 at 11:16 PM | PERMALINK

With only 40 to 50 years of oil left on the planet, please refer to highways as walkways.

Drilling off the coastal shelf will increase the supply by ten or so years. The drilling equipment will be very expensive and the discovery and exploitation will be expensive and the price of gasoline will still be very high, but some people of influence in the Republican party will make a pretty piece of change from all this activity. The white House, Texas Senators and Republican Congressmen are hot to move in this direction and are supported by constituencies holding a hand or two in the oil business.

Posted by: deejaayss on July 26, 2008 at 11:17 PM | PERMALINK

When I was growing up in Phoenix, AZ there was only one "Freeway," the Black Canyon (that was around 1962, since I moved away in 1972, numerous "Freeways" have joined it).

"Freeway" seems to be a West Coast thing. I live in Milwaukee now and people look at me funny now when I use that term. People here just talk about I-94, I-43, etc. I don't think they were ever given "proper" names.

In Chicago they have the "Dan Ryan Expressway," the "Eisenhower Expressway," etc.

I suppose the term "Freeway" came about because those California limited-access highways were free as opposed to the tollways they have out East and here in the Midwest (but not in Wisconsin).

Posted by: John B. on July 26, 2008 at 11:17 PM | PERMALINK

I always call it PCH.

Perhaps we SoCal people have a special love-hate relationship to our freeways, which by the way are free to use, unlike *some* places. In LA, we believe that freeways are living, breathing entities determined to foil our best-laid plans with either lateness or, more rarely, unfashionable earliness unless we plan and plot our moves and routes carefully, sharing our best strategies with friends or misleading our foes as to the best way to get from point A to point B. Thus the use of the article. Of course it might be a holdover from days of yore when we used the proper name: The Ventura Freeway, The Santa Ana Freeway, The 118.

Posted by: James on July 26, 2008 at 11:18 PM | PERMALINK

I-75 when I was a kid now just 75. BTW just watched There Will Be Blood. The old California with dirt tracks, put-put Model Ts and no green. It's the future too.

Posted by: wren on July 26, 2008 at 11:18 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, huh-uh. It's a SoCal thing. In NorCal, they say, "Get on 580 east," or "Take 17 toward Santa Cruz." I lived in LA for a number of years, and only there is there this devotion to the definite article. It's fine, of course.

Posted by: Wendy on July 26, 2008 at 11:21 PM | PERMALINK

I've only visited Los Angeles, but the definite article always sounded like an expression of affection to me. "Take I-405 to Gardena" sounds pretty impersonal, but "Take the 405 to Gardena" sounds like fond familiarity.

Posted by: Hal on July 26, 2008 at 11:22 PM | PERMALINK

>"like other Californians, refer to freeways using the definite article: "the 5,"...

In northern california I started hearing people putting 'the' in front of highway numbers only a few years ago. Reckon it is southern CA chic like gangsta talk.

Posted by: Buford on July 26, 2008 at 11:23 PM | PERMALINK

Just to bookend with Grumpy in Alaska, here at the other end of the great American diagonal line we have 408, 417, 434, 436, 419, 423, 426, 429, 441, 535, 528, 192, 17-92, 50, and good old I-4. Only I-4 is a freeway in the California sense.

408, 417 and 528 are toll highways, because Lord knows, paying taxes is Communism around here. And of course, the only way to get from Orlando International Airport to Disney World is to take either 417 or 528. Our roads sock you even before the Mouse.

Posted by: Greg in FL on July 26, 2008 at 11:23 PM | PERMALINK

Around NY, most of what you're driving on has a name. You take "the Hutch," "the Garden State," "the LIE", etc.

If it doesn't have a name, it doesn't get an article. You take "287", "Route 7", etc.

In Holland, you'll be pleased to note, they are kin to the Californians. You take "de A-9", "de N-200", "de Haarlemmerweg", and so forth.

Posted by: brooksfoe on July 26, 2008 at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK

Confused:
A freeway is a road with no stop signs, stop lights, or crossroads. It typically has a speed limit of 55+. Freeways typically correspond to highways but highways are not necessarily freeways. For example, Highway 1 goes up the California coast, and is a freeway most of the way, but where it goes through the downtown area of a city, it is no longer a freeway. For example, in Santa Cruz, Highway 1 follows the same route as Mission Street, which is definitely not a freeway.

Posted by: SC on July 26, 2008 at 11:26 PM | PERMALINK

Walrus, gaucho and SC are dead on -- Up here in the Bay Area we just use the number: "5" or "80" or "92," whatever. And then there are those nostalgic folks who insist on referring to "the Nimitz" when they mean "880." It used to be considered sort of sweet; now it's a pain in the butt, because most folks, including those who drive it daily, have no idea what freeway used to be called "the Nimitz" and don't care.

Posted by: Lizzy L on July 26, 2008 at 11:27 PM | PERMALINK

Highways (Northern MN):
"Head west on Highway 10"
Highways (Southern MN):
"Take 169 South to..."

Interstates:
"Take 94, to 35W and get on 694."

Posted by: MNPundit on July 26, 2008 at 11:29 PM | PERMALINK

There's a sigalert on the Garbage Grove Freeway.

Posted by: jerry on July 26, 2008 at 11:33 PM | PERMALINK

We point.

And refer to landmarks that "usta been."

Posted by: Paul Camp on July 26, 2008 at 11:35 PM | PERMALINK

To echo a few other commenters, it's definitely a a SoCal thing -- I noticed a number of years ago that nobody added "the" in NorCal.

And confused: freeway is used for names, e.g. The Garden Grove Freeway, which is the name for...I think CA-22 not too far from where Kevin lives. Highways are generally larger surface streets.

Posted by: jon on July 26, 2008 at 11:37 PM | PERMALINK

We say "I" whatever in Arkansas. That is I30, I40, and I540. Beyond that, all the roads have names.

Posted by: Charlie on July 26, 2008 at 11:39 PM | PERMALINK

Nobody in Northern California adds "the" before a highway number (unless they're a transplanted Southern Californian, and even then everyone looks at them funny).

Having lived in both regions I now habitually refer to Highway 101 in the Bay Area as "101," but when I refer to Highway 101 in LA I call it "the 101"! Same for I-5.

Posted by: Callimaco on July 26, 2008 at 11:39 PM | PERMALINK

In Ontario, we use a bit of a mix, depending on the type of highway. 400-series highways and the biggest named highways are described using the definite article. e.g. "The DVP, the 401, the 404, the 427, the trans-Canada".

Lesser highways are described the other way: "highway 8, highway 6 south, highway 7". I'm not really sure why it works this way.

Posted by: CrazyNewfie on July 26, 2008 at 11:43 PM | PERMALINK

As several have pointed out, "the" is a socal, not statewide affliction. I too was a bit stunned when my son - after having lived in Riverside County for several years referred to "the 10."

Personally, I still drive home over "the hill" on "17" from San Jose to Santa Cruz. 30+ years ago when I 1st moved to the SF Bay area from the east coast, the common sentiment was that people in LA referred to San Francisco as "frisco." People in San Francisco didn't refer to LA at all ;-]

Posted by: mesrsault on July 26, 2008 at 11:44 PM | PERMALINK

In Hawaii, you use landmarks, not directions. The traffic reports will say, "Diamond Head bound lanes of H-1 (one of Hawaii's three "interstate" highways) are backed up because of a stalled car."

Nobody, except tourists, uses numbers for state highways, although every highway has one. We always take Kamehameha Highway, never Highway 99.

Much confusion ensued when a new section of H-1 was constructed and the old section became the Moanalua Freeway, which a lot of people still consider H-1.

Posted by: DevilDog on July 26, 2008 at 11:48 PM | PERMALINK

I just moved from SF to melbourne, FL. As gaucho said above, in Northern Cal we referred to "101" or "280" when speaking of the freeways in "The City" (that's San Fran or Frisco to outsiders). I have noticed that in Orlando they speak in SoCal-ese when referring to local Interstates or expressways (The 528, The 408, etc). The Disney effect, perhaps? Or Orlando being a bit pretentious?

Posted by: pjbacfl on July 26, 2008 at 11:48 PM | PERMALINK

I just moved from SF to melbourne, FL. As gaucho said above, in Northern Cal we referred to "101" or "280" when speaking of the freeways in "The City" (that's San Fran or Frisco to outsiders). I have noticed that in Orlando they speak in SoCal-ese when referring to local Interstates or expressways (The 528, The 408, etc). The Disney effect, perhaps? Or Orlando being a bit pretentious?

Posted by: pjbacfl on July 26, 2008 at 11:48 PM | PERMALINK

the New Jersey Turnpike

Don't think I've ever heard it called that. It's always just "the Jersey Turnpike."

Posted by: Swift Loris on July 26, 2008 at 11:49 PM | PERMALINK

See the love Northern Californians show for the "the" affectation of Southern Californians! Gary Richards writes a column in the San Jose Mercury News and recently asked whether we should be using "the" (http://www.siliconvalley.com/ci_9585508). Final count on Email reactions: 246 -- no way, never; 11 -- yes.

Posted by: Steve on July 26, 2008 at 11:50 PM | PERMALINK

Please Kevin, do not confuse Southern California with the rest of California. Nothing will bring the conversation to a full stop in the bay area as referring to "the" 101 or "the" 80. Nothing quite says, "you're not from around you here, are you?" like the definitive article applied to a freeway in the Bay Area and Sacto.

However, calling all roads "freeways" is definitely a California thing. I grew up in suburban chicago, we had tollways and expressways and the two are not the same. And yes, we refer to them by their given names: The Dan Ryan, The Eisenhower, The Kennedy, The Tri-State, etc. (although, it's been awhile, I don't know if people started referring to 88 as the Reagan. Let's hope not).

Also, in the South. They are all just referred to as the Interstate. Just like a soda beverages are referred to as Coke in the generic form.

Posted by: Christopher on July 26, 2008 at 11:52 PM | PERMALINK

In my state - which is the same as yours, Kevin - we don't use the definite article. We say "Highway 280", or "101". We might use a phrase like "The Dumbarton", which is short for "The Dumbarton Bridge" in which you would use the definite article anyway.

But I suppose my state, Northern California, really isn't the same as yours.

Posted by: Fred from Pescadero on July 26, 2008 at 11:55 PM | PERMALINK

To sum up results so far:

The Canadian provinces, or at least the eastern ones, use the article;
as do the British and the Dutch;
as do drivers in the Orlando FL area;
as do people in Southern Cal.

I still like my Spanish-influence theory.

Posted by: lampwick on July 27, 2008 at 12:05 AM | PERMALINK

mesrsault,

Yeah. We Angelenos always took pride in that studied, pained disregard by you NoCal-type people. It's really not the same since Herb Caen left us though, is it? In any event, not nearly as much fun.

Peace.

Posted by: on July 27, 2008 at 12:12 AM | PERMALINK

In Minnesota we have county road, township roads, state roads, and of course the Interstate roads. As such, we have to differentiate between them. There is I 94 and then there is County 94. Of course, don't even get me started on the low maintenance roads (which means they are plowed last in winter, and repaired last after heavy storms), many of which have no designation, but do sometimes actually go somewhere. One just outside of Hastings is called Mystic Road. Darn near the steepest road I've ever driven up.

Posted by: Rook on July 27, 2008 at 12:15 AM | PERMALINK

Grew up in LA, but love the 15 years in Berkeley and SF, but jebus, from this thread, the folks from Frisco are sure touchy.

Really guys, there is nothing to be jealous of, but this whole "sniff, it's a socal thing" sure makes you out to be wannabes.

/Really want to take the 10 over to the 8 and from there to Pacific Beach.

Posted by: jerry on July 27, 2008 at 12:15 AM | PERMALINK

Here in the center of the state we generally dispose of the definite article.

If I were going to the Bay Area I'd take Highway 99 (or just 99) to Chowchilla hang a left on 152 and get on I-5 outside of Los Banos.

However, when I would go visit my sister-in-law when she lived in San Diego, I'd take 99 and once I was over the Grapevine, I'd tune in LA stations to see if I was going to take the 5 or the 405 depending on traffic conditions.

Back in Ohio where my parents still live, interstates are I-# (I-75, I-280, or the Turnpike). Freeway and expressway are interchangeable terms. And state routes are referred to as route-# (Route 2, Route 4, or just the number 795)

HTH

Posted by: fresburger on July 27, 2008 at 12:18 AM | PERMALINK


Hmmm. La Ciento Uno. El Diez. La Cuatrociento Cinco. El Cien Dieciocho.

You may have something there, lampwick.

Posted by: James on July 27, 2008 at 12:19 AM | PERMALINK

I remember the exact cultural moment when SoCalifornians started to give up using the names of freeways (e.g. the Harbor Fwy) and started to use numbers. It was the construction of the San Gabriel River Freeway around 1970 or thereabouts. Somehow, the name was too clunky to use. Naming a new freeway after a glorified concrete ditch seemed wrong, too. Residents started to refer to the San Gabriel River Freeway as "The 605" and I doubt if under-40 SoCalifornians often remember the original name.

Posted by: troglodyte on July 27, 2008 at 12:22 AM | PERMALINK

I grew up one block east (north?) of The 405!
Now I live in Tucson and it's I-10, I-19. I never remember the numbers of the state highways.

Posted by: jhill on July 27, 2008 at 12:22 AM | PERMALINK

In WA it is I-5 or I-405, highway 99 or 99. "Take 405" is less common but OK, "take 5" would sound a bit strange.

Posted by: tomtom on July 27, 2008 at 12:23 AM | PERMALINK

Here in northeastern Georgia, we just say "441" and "I85," without the definite article.

But we do use the definite article for Athens city bus routes. "Take the 5 to Baxter."

Posted by: Philip Brooks on July 27, 2008 at 12:25 AM | PERMALINK

In New Orleans, natives call the main highway "the interstate" while transplants call it "I-10."

Posted by: Ryan on July 27, 2008 at 12:25 AM | PERMALINK

Other folks have commented about the difference between Southern California and the rest of the state. Don't assume, Kevin; California is really something like four or five states squished together.

I lived in the Bay Area for 25 years, and the only people who put definite articles in front of highway names were folks from Southern California.

Posted by: Douglas Moran on July 27, 2008 at 12:25 AM | PERMALINK

The previous MN bloggers pretty much cover how we do it in MN--numbers, except when the number is used for multiple types of road, and then the type goes in. "94" is I-94, but County Road 94 is "County Road 94".

Us-10 is "10" but County Road 10 is "County Road 10" or some people in the metro area call it "Old 10" (since apparently US-10 used to follow that route).

Also, we seem to cut off the type of streets (Avenue, Street, etal) for street names.

"Take Snelling up to Larpenteur, turn left and go until you reach Fairview."

Posted by: Paul on July 27, 2008 at 12:26 AM | PERMALINK

Here in East Tennessee we have "The Dragon." It's US129 and it has 316 curves in 11 miles. It's a motorcyclists dream.

"Y'all headin' up ta the dragon?"

"I was wantin' to rod up hit but ma wof hadda go ta the doctors, bless her heart."

"I hear ya. Tell'er we're prayin' fer her."

Posted by: Elrod on July 27, 2008 at 12:28 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, Mesrsault has it backwards. I've lived in both Northern and Southern California and can definitely say Northern Californians are obsessed with (and hate) Southern California while those in LA hardly realize Norther California exists.

I heard once that there was a plan to separate California into smaller states, but the plan failed because San Fransisco was going to be in the same state as Los Angeles, and there was no way San Fransisco would live with that.

Posted by: Mark on July 27, 2008 at 12:29 AM | PERMALINK

In Buffalo, where I lived, it's "The 90". In Rochester it's "90." I-90 goes through Buffalo but probably doesn't go much closer than 30 miles of Rochester so perhaps that is the source of linguistic difference.

Now that I live in Chicago I call it "the 90/94" though natives call it "the Dan Ryan" or "the Kennedy" depending on which part of 90/94 you are on.

Posted by: Tom on July 27, 2008 at 12:30 AM | PERMALINK

Don't think I've ever heard it called that. It's always just "the Jersey Turnpike."

It's just "the Turnpike". The other highway is "the Parkway".

Generally, around NY we use names if possible - the shorter the name, the better. Tomorrow, I'm going to take the Taconic to the Saw Mill to the Thruway to the Deegan to the Cross Bronx to the Throgs Neck (bridge, that is) to the Cross Island to the Southern State to the Meadowbrook. If I want to go the beach, that is.

Posted by: Jack on July 27, 2008 at 12:32 AM | PERMALINK

Well, Dallas apparently has that in common with Minn. 35 is, um thirty-five, unless you're inside the split then it's 'thirty-five E' and 'thirty-five west'. And the circular highways are either named (LBJ - George Bush) or numbered (635 and 191 respectively). I have a friend that lives near 407 and 156 but those are state highways.

I have a real hard time saying 'THE thirty-five E' (is there some other 35E?), but 'the mixmaster' is ok. Weirdly, I have an even harder time saying I-35E... if I have to explain it, it's 'interstate 35 E', although I have occasionally heard foreigners describe it as I35.

max
['I already know'd it was a interstate. Thanks for tellin' me again.']

Posted by: max on July 27, 2008 at 12:33 AM | PERMALINK

In Michigan, we have officially designated highways, expressways, and freeways (no tollways or turnpikes), and they are actually different. They have overlapping numbers. So the practice depends on the locality of the navigator.

For example, "The Lodge" indicates somebody inside Wayne County or growing up in Detroit, those in neighboring Oakland County would say "Northwestern Highway", but all others (map readers) would say "M-10". Part of the reason for the longevity of the names is that the numbers have changed over the decades. M-10 was previously US-10 and US-12 and M-4, in various parts.

More exceptions are old-timers talking about "The Jeffries" (I-69) or "The Fisher" (I-75). Folks under the age of 50 only use the numbers for Interstates (called Freeways here).

All others are just "Davidson" (M-8) or "Southfield" (M-39) or "Van Dyke" (M-53), without article. Nobody seems to know or care about the numbers.

Low numbers that conflict are usually given the designator. For example, M-14 (no article).

Higher, non-conflicting numbers are just "696", "375", "94", or "59" (respectively: "Walter Reuther", I-696; "Chrysler", I-375; "Edsel Ford", I-94; varying names, M-59). Again, no articles.

Posted by: William Allen Simpson on July 27, 2008 at 12:33 AM | PERMALINK

Freeway is definitely not a California thing. The term came from the East Coast and first surfaced in the mid-1930s in proposals for the improvement of the New York City parkway network.

Freeways were a reaction to epidemic of toll roads (turnpikes) that sprung up on the East Coast when politicians seized on toll roads as a revenue-generating gold mine. The term then was used to mean toll-free road, although some claim the "free" implied freedom from traffic interference rather than "at no cost."

And don't forget Aretha Franklin, "Riding down the freeway of love in a pink Cadillac."

Posted by: on July 27, 2008 at 12:37 AM | PERMALINK

47 years old. Have lived in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana.

Only in Michigan (Detroit area) were they referred to as the Lodge, Fishers, etc. freeways.

Ohio and Indiana it's I70, I71, 465.

Posted by: jharp on July 27, 2008 at 12:40 AM | PERMALINK

Hate to be the dissenting vote here but I've been in Phoenix 25 years and most of the people I know refer to "the 10" (Interstate) and "the 60"(State highway)when they are talking about the part that is freeway and "60" when they are talking about the parts that aren't freeway. I don't know that any of them are from LA.

...and, yeah, what's with the Nor Cal snobbery going on here?

Posted by: wmac on July 27, 2008 at 12:43 AM | PERMALINK

back east in colorado we say "eye-twenty-five" or "eye-seventy". in ny they seem to say "four-ninety" or "three-ninety", without the article and without the eye (but hicksville is a small sample).

Posted by: supersaurus on July 27, 2008 at 12:43 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin truly evidenced his Southern Californian roots when he glibly assumed everyone in California appended a "the" to highway designations.

It's that sort of presumptuousness that gets you Southern Californians hated up here in the better half of the state.

Posted by: NoCal Dude on July 27, 2008 at 12:46 AM | PERMALINK

In Dubai, the largest freeway, 14 lanes, is just called Sheikh Zayed Road شارع الشيخ زايد

Posted by: david s on July 27, 2008 at 12:51 AM | PERMALINK

Dashiell Hammett

vs.

James Cain
Raymond Chandler
Ross MacDonald
Walter Mosley
Michael Connelly
Joseph Wambaugh
and even
T. Jefferson Parker
Sue Grafton
Jonathan Kellerman
James Ellroy
...

I love the Bay Area, I do, but it would be nice if they would get some more culture up there.

Posted by: jerry on July 27, 2008 at 12:54 AM | PERMALINK

"the Jersey Turnpike"

Growing up, it was just "the stinkpike".

I guess they have cleaned it up a bit.

Posted by: david s on July 27, 2008 at 12:55 AM | PERMALINK

I think in New York names stick over numbers because we have so many parkways & drives that have no number- so it accustoms people to using names. Like taking the Belt (Parkway) to the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway aka The Gowanus aka 278 - I think 278 is the last way people would describe it here, and only to an out of towner. Similarly, the Long Island Expressway is that or the L.I.E. but almost never 495.

Posted by: will on July 27, 2008 at 12:55 AM | PERMALINK

In WA State, its definately "I-5", not "the 5", like LA. Cheers

Posted by: omonubi on July 27, 2008 at 12:59 AM | PERMALINK

Blame on the media. I grew up with the freeways of L.A. In the 50s, we called them The Pasadena, The Long Beach, The Santa Ana, and so on. As the interstate highway system developed, the newer freeways were identified simply by their number. That's when the eyes-in-the-sky radio traffic reporters switched to a breezy style of calling out the traffic bottlenecks by freeway number.

Posted by: Alan on July 27, 2008 at 1:03 AM | PERMALINK

It's that sort of presumptuousness that gets you Southern Californians hated up here in the better half of the state.

Southern Californians, as far as I could ever tell, don't actually do anything to deserve the hatred. They don't even know you're there, or care much. It always mystified me as to what the one-way animosity was about.

Posted by: chiggins on July 27, 2008 at 1:08 AM | PERMALINK

Once she was on the freeway and had maneuvered her way to a fast lane she turned on the radio at high volume and she drove. She drove the San Diego to the Harbor, the Harbor up to the Hollywood, the Hollywood to the Golden State, the Santa Monica, the Santa Ana, the Pasadena, the Ventura. She drove it as a riverman runs a river, every day more attuned to its currents, its deceptions, and just as a riverman feels the pull of the rapids in the lull between sleeping and waking, so Maria lay at night in the still of Beverly Hills and saw the great signs soar overhead at seventy miles an hour. Normandie 1/4 Vermont 3/4 Harbor Fwy I. Again and again she returned to an intricate stretch just south of the interchange where successful passage from the Hollywood onto the Harbor required a diagonal move across four lanes of traffic. On the afternoon she finally did it without once braking or once losing the beat on the radio she was exhilarated, and that night slept dreamlessly.

Posted by: Joan Didion on July 27, 2008 at 1:11 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin is younger than I so he probably doesn't realize that ALL freeway's in LA and Southern California are named after where they go FROM Los Angeles. The Santa Monica Fwy, the San Diego Fwy, the Long Beach Fwy, the Pasadena Fwy, etc, etc. We only started even referring to them by their numbers when east coasters started moving this way in the 80's. Some of the newer freeways, like the 105, maybe never had names that were in wide use, but until right after the Olympics, when there was an influx of both East/Texas/Northerners and Asians, everyone used full names. Probably the use of the definite article is a holdover from this.

Also, PCH is the proper name for "Highway 1," even the nice bits.

Posted by: Chasm on July 27, 2008 at 1:16 AM | PERMALINK

Judge Doom: Several months ago I had the good providence to stumble upon this plan of the city council's. A construction plan of epic proportions. They're calling it a freeway.
Eddie Valiant: Freeway? What the hell's a freeway?
Judge Doom: Eight lanes of shimmering cement running from here to Pasadena. Smooth, safe, fast. Traffic jams will be a thing of the past.
Eddie Valiant: So that's why you killed Acme and Maroon? For this freeway? I don't get it.
Judge Doom: Of course not. You lack vision. I see a place where people get on and off the freeway. On and off, off and on all day, all night. Soon, where Toontown once stood will be a string of gas stations, inexpensive motels, restaurants that serve rapidly prepared food. Tire salons, automobile dealerships and wonderful, wonderful billboards reaching as far as the eye can see. My God, it'll be beautiful.
Eddie Valiant: Come on! Nobody's going to drive this lousy freeway when they can take the Red Car for a nickel.
Judge Doom: Oh, they'll drive. They'll have to. You see, I bought the Red Car so I could dismantle it.

Posted by: Roger Rabbit on July 27, 2008 at 1:16 AM | PERMALINK

Jinks.

Posted by: Chasm on July 27, 2008 at 1:17 AM | PERMALINK


It used to be stylish to disdain us SoCal folks, because we are *big.* And didn't have tall buildings. That's when Herb Caen was alive. He made his -- what? 40-year -- writing career on disdaining Los Angeles. NoCal doesn't like to be ig-nooooored, like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard. Though, to be fair, NoCal gets more, much more funding per capita from Sacramento than Los Angeles does.

It does get a little tired, but whatcha gonna do with an old lady like that? Sigh.

Posted by: James on July 27, 2008 at 1:23 AM | PERMALINK

I will take a flyer on either Cal Worthington or Earl Muntz starting it in commercials.

Posted by: bmaz on July 27, 2008 at 2:10 AM | PERMALINK

Bad grammar aside ... or maybe not, I first heard the improper use of the definite article with a highway number from a young woman from San Fernando Valley about 1970 in Berkeley. I grew up in LA and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1963. It's now heard wherever you find Angelino transplants. It's an embarrassment not only to native-born Californians, but native-born Angelinos. But what are going to do?

Posted by: Tom on July 27, 2008 at 2:29 AM | PERMALINK

In NY, the traffic reporters make it as short as possible - "Traffic is backed up on the GW today." God forbid you're a tourist just passing through the area and don't figure out that means avoid the George Washington Bridge. Although that's usually a good idea. And the L.I.E. - avoid that too. Back to you in the studio, Howard.

Posted by: jbk on July 27, 2008 at 2:38 AM | PERMALINK

Calif is the only place i"ve found that doesn't refer to freeways as I-this or I-that.

Posted by: On the Road on July 27, 2008 at 2:41 AM | PERMALINK

Regarding the article "the" - here in the Bay Area it gets appended to neighborhood names all the time. Now in NYC this made sense for certain neighborhoods: the Village, the Lower East Side, the East Village, the Upper West Side.

But here in the East Bay of SF, we have the Rockridge, not Rockridge. The Elmwood, the Gourmet Ghetto, the Laurel, and the Temescal; however other neighborhoods are free of articles, like Piedmont, Glenview, and Grand Lake. Over in SF it's the Mission and the Castro, but not the North Beach or the Russian Hill.

I have yet to figure it out and I've lived here (in the Laurel) for fifteen years.

PS maybe because I'm contrary, but having lived in NYC for a dozen years and the Bay Area for fifteen, I've become a lover of Los Angeles. People who dis it don't get it. LA's worst qualities have been absorbed and magnified by much worse American cities (try Dallas, Houston, Atlanta).

LA still has cool old neighborhoods full of interesting housing stock and old, sometimes renovated commercial districts. (I like Venice, Culver City, Los Feliz, and even am attracted to certain close-in areas of the Valley). There are great museums, libraries, bookstores and galleries there; plenty of amazing natural resources, not just beaches; lots of thriving ethnic neighborhoods.

You can eat really well in L.A., you could survive without a car if you chose your neighborhood carefully, and you could live quite a civilized life if you tried.

Don't ask me to say nice things about Orange County, though, sorry Kevin. The OC exemplifies what people think they're hating when they hate L.A.

Posted by: Leila Abu-Saba on July 27, 2008 at 2:43 AM | PERMALINK

(Pico and Sepulveda, Pico and Sepulveda)
(Pico and Sepulveda, Pico and Sepulveda)
Doheny, (Pico and Sepulveda, Pico and Sepulveda)
Cahuenga, (Pico and Sepulveda, Pico and Sepulveda)
La Brea... (Pico and Sepulveda, Pico and Sepulveda)
...Tar Pits (Pico and Sepulveda)
(Tar Pits!)

La Jolla, (Pico and Sepulveda, Pico and Sepulveda)
Sequoia, (Pico and Sepulveda, Pico and Sepulveda)
La Brea... (Pico and Sepulveda, Pico and Sepulveda)
...Tar Pits (Pico and Sepulveda)
(Tar Pits!)

You can keep Alvarado,
Santa Monica,
even Beverly Drive.

Vine may be fine,
but for mine
I want to
feel
a-
live
and settle down in my
La Brea... (Pico and Sepulveda, Pico and Sepulveda)
...Tar Pits (Pico and Sepulveda, Pico and Sepulveda)

Where nobody's dreams
come
true... (Pico and Sepulveda, Pico and Sepulveda)
(Pico and Sepulveda, Pico and Sepulveda)

Posted by: Felix Figueroa on July 27, 2008 at 2:49 AM | PERMALINK

More SF "the" neighborhoods, some of them really important and famous:

The Tenderloin. The Haight. The Sunset. The Richmond. The Marina. The Western Addition. The Fillmore.

What is it about these Bay Area neighborhood names? We need a linguist to weigh in.

Posted by: Leila Abu-Saba on July 27, 2008 at 2:50 AM | PERMALINK

well in Seattle its I-90 or I-5 but its only 405 -- highway 99 -- is aurora or pac hiway -- seattle tends to shorten everying the university of washington is the u-dub or the u --

Posted by: Brian on July 27, 2008 at 2:52 AM | PERMALINK

Incidentally, that's a Southern Californian linguistic trait. North of Ventura you won't hear "the 101" "the 5".

Posted by: Quatrain Gleam on July 27, 2008 at 3:30 AM | PERMALINK

There are so many Canadians in Los Angeles now that maybe it spread from Toronto :) The construction has been in common use in Toronto since the construction of THE QEW in the early 1950s (which once meant the Queen Elizabeth Way incidentally, though many Torontonians would not even know that now I suspect), and then THE 401 in the late 1950s. Dini Petty was the eye in the sky reporter in Toronto for 20 years at least starting in about 1960. Maybe she started the whole thing.

From Wiki:
"At 22, wearing a trademark pink jumpsuit and working for Toronto radio station CKEY, she became the first female traffic reporter to pilot her own helicopter. She clocked five thousand hours as pilot-in-command of a Hughes 300."

Posted by: Anon on July 27, 2008 at 3:51 AM | PERMALINK

"A freeway is a road with no stop signs, stop lights, or crossroads. It typically has a speed limit of 55+. Freeways typically correspond to highways but highways are not necessarily freeways. For example, Highway 1 goes up the California coast, and is a freeway most of the way, but where it goes through the downtown area of a city, it is no longer a freeway."

I don't think of PCH as a freeway along most of its stretch. I guess by "freeway" I think of something with several lanes. Otherwise, in CA it's just a highway. (FWIW, my linguistic ear was trained growing up in Chicago, where, as others have pointed out, we have "expressways" and "tollways", but no "freeways".)

Maybe it's that any road where the traffic runs freely isn't a freeway to my mind. Someone put in a call to George Carlin.

Posted by: MattD on July 27, 2008 at 4:19 AM | PERMALINK

Can you trust a group of people who named 405 "the San Diego Freeway" even though not a single mile is in San Diego County?

Posted by: Dirk on July 27, 2008 at 4:36 AM | PERMALINK

"Also, several commenters tell me that using the definite article is a Southern California thing, not a California thing. I stand corrected."

That's also a Southern California parochialism, i.e. not having any clue that certain linguistic habits are peculiar to their own little part of the California highway map, and expressing surprise when they learn that other parts of the state exist where habits, language and culture are different from theirs.

Posted by: s9 on July 27, 2008 at 6:42 AM | PERMALINK

No article in front here in my part of Ohio. Nor do we use 'highway'. We do tend to give the direction after the route number. Like "Take 70 west until you get to...".

But they probably do that everywhere, right?

Posted by: mollycoddle on July 27, 2008 at 7:29 AM | PERMALINK

I've heard people on the West Coast say "spendy" while we on the East Coast say "expensive."

When I lived in Houston, people referred to the Montrose neighborhood as "the Montrose," although most other neighboods lacked the definitive article.

Posted by: Helena Montana on July 27, 2008 at 7:40 AM | PERMALINK

I would guess that the (dis)inclusion of the definite article is based on whether we assume (but leave unspoken) a subsequent noun. In New York, we would say the Deegan, because we are still implying the subsequent (unspoken) "expressway." This is not usually done for streets, avenues etc, perhaps because they are considered less important. However, we would say, "take the Maple street exit." Usually numbers in the NY area stand alone e.g. 90 or 95. These numbers stand alone, because there is no assumed "expressway" subsequent. I would guess that people in California on the other hand would say "The 95" because they are implying a subsequent "freeway." This does not seem to have any basis in the Spanish use of articles.

Interestingly 1, is never called 1 in CT, it is called "The Post Road." I would guess that the "the" is necessary in that case, because unlike Michigan (Avenue)in Chicago, the Post road, never ever leaves out "road."

Posted by: Cornfields on July 27, 2008 at 7:56 AM | PERMALINK

As Tom noted above, in Buffalo, where my son lives, I-190 is referred to as "the 190." The big expressways Scajaquada and Kensington are usually "the 198" and "the 33," respectively, after their state route numbers. In Central Kentucky, where I live, the only roads we refer to by number are the interstates, and they are "I-75" and "I-64."

Posted by: Yeldnepj on July 27, 2008 at 8:04 AM | PERMALINK

Actually come to think of it... 95 is really not an expressway, but an interstate: I-95. Thus, while theoretically you could say "take interstate 95 south to the..." (though no one would), it would sound very very odd to use the definite article ie "take the interstate 95 south to the..." So there is some variation based on whether the assumed noun is placed before or after the spoken number.

Posted by: Cornfields on July 27, 2008 at 8:04 AM | PERMALINK

Interestingly, I guess "the 405" implies the unspoken subsequent "freeway," when 405 is also an interstate. If people thought of it as an interstate, then the use of the definite article would sound odd, even if "interstate" was left unspoken.

Posted by: Cornfields on July 27, 2008 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

Hi

In Toronto they say

'the 401' and 'the 407' -- each of these are super-roads, the 401 being 22 lanes across at one point (counting all the feeders). There probably is someone out there who actually calls it 'The MacDonald-Cartier Freeway' but I've never met them.

also sometimes they say 'take 401 across to the Don Valley (Parkway) and go south to the Lakeshore'

Otherwise they say 'take Highway 10'

Modern Canadian English is in some ways very similar to southern California English.

Posted by: Valuethinker on July 27, 2008 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

yeldnej and anon

You've nailed it. This is a Canadian/ northern US thing-- Toronto and Buffalo. The Canadian accent has penetrated across the border, linguists tell us (the flow isn't only from the US to Canada).

So there is a plausible hypothesis:

In Socal, there are so many Canadians in the media industry, and perhaps in the radio industry, that it has penetrated there too: think Dan Akroyd, Ivan Reitman, Mike Myers, William Shatner, Leslie Nielsen, Second City, Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, Michael J. Fox, Pamela Anderson (you can keep that one), and a host of others.

Posted by: Valuethinker on July 27, 2008 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

How we screw fewwway the names in NC:

The recently completed I-26 north of Asheville, which was created with some West Virginia style mountaintop leveling, is designated as a "North Carolina Scenic Byway".

Posted by: ew on July 27, 2008 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

How we screw up freeway names in NC.

That was not intentional!

Posted by: ew on July 27, 2008 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

Missourians refer to highways in a back asswards manner, e.g. Highway 291 is referred to as "291 Highway".

Posted by: Jim on July 27, 2008 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

Northern Californians are cheesed off because they didn't think of it first. (I once heard a comedian call it: "There's a huge rivalry between San Francisco and L.A. It's just that L.A. doesn't know it.") Next thing ya know, the Chronicle will demand that Caltrans alter the highway signs to indicate the exits for the Trendiest, Hottest, Hippest ____ Spot in ___ (Brisbane, Milpitas, whatever slurb development turned "city" you're passing through).

Posted by: Tirebiter in Sector R on July 27, 2008 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK

The use of the definite article "The" before the name of any roadway ends at a line running from Gaviota through Tejon Pass and out into the desert to the Nevada/California border. Socal transplants are easily identifiable by this odd language construction. When California becomes two states and Socal is required to pay for the true cost of the water they now have the rest of us subsidize, maybe we'll also ask that they to drop this usage.

Posted by: Dia Logics on July 27, 2008 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

the Rockridge, not Rockridge. The Elmwood, the Gourmet Ghetto, the Laurel, and the Temescal; however other neighborhoods are free of articles, like Piedmont, Glenview, and Grand Lake. Over in SF it's the Mission and the Castro, but not the North Beach or the Russian Hill.

A NYC borough definite-article anomaly: Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and...the Bronx.

Posted by: Swift Loris on July 27, 2008 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

Northern California takes great mirth at the use of a definite article to define a freeway. Anyone who arrives on "the 680" or "the 101" or (worse) "the BART" is an outsider.

Maybe this explains Bush's definition of the information highway.

"I've used the google"

Posted by: shrink in sf on July 27, 2008 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

lots of other areas have names for highways

Less than you think. Southern California is full of them, but other than that ... Chicago? New Jersey?

The South, Midwest, and the rest of the Northeast have few.

Posted by: TR on July 27, 2008 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

In Washington St. it's "I-90", "I-5", "405" (why not I-405 I have no explanation). State and US highways are usually "101", "104" etc. There's the occasional "North Cascade Hiway" or "Highway 2". Never "the" except when refrencing briges: i.e. "The Hood Canal Floating Bridge sank last night."

Posted by: Digital Amish on July 27, 2008 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

Lived in Chicago, hated the freeway naming. Only place I've lived where I regularly traveled on three different named freeways without ever changing what freeway I was on (the Kennedy to the Dan Ryan to the Skyway).

Posted by: Doosh on July 27, 2008 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

I live on the Eastside of the Seattle area. Usually I refer to I-5 either as I-5 or just 5, I-90 as just 90 but occasionally as I-90, and I-405 as just 405 and never I-405. Highway 99 goes a long way north and south, but because of the stretch of it I'm most familiar with I usually call it Aurora.

Posted by: Catsy on July 27, 2008 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

I was born in san diego, spent a few years of school in Orange County, though mostly on THE east coast. Went to college in Berkeley and have lived in SF ever since. My mom worked for AAA in So Cal. She thinks it's because of how many freeways there are in LA. 55, 91, 10, 110, 210, 310, 405, 5, 57, etc. Most major cities only have an east west interstate, and a north south interstate going through them. I believe the article gives some breather to directions like: 1 to 110 to 91 to 57 (Palos Verdes to Brea) or 55 to 405 to 110 (Newport beach to LAX). Or 118 to 5 to 210 to 15 (Simi Valley to Vegas).

Posted by: kt on July 27, 2008 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin wrote:
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"?

I think it may have come with all of the New York (City) transplants the L.A. area. Consider how people refer to the subways of New York as "the A train," "the Number 4" and "the Lexington Avenue Express."

Dirk wrote:
Can you trust a group of people who named 405 "the San Diego Freeway" even though not a single mile is in San Diego County?

You are correct that I-405 [as a Marylander, I am incapable of saying "the 405"] does not enter San Diego County. But I-5 does. And south of the I-405/I-5 split/merge (depending on if you are going north or south) at Irvine, I-5 is the San Diego Freeway (and the San Diego Freeway as I-5) definitely continues south past San Onofre and towards the city of San Diego).

In the Washington [D.C.] area, the Capital Beltway is often called the Inner Loop (clockwise) or the Outer Loop (counter-clockwise) by traffic reporters and not usually I-495 (or I-95/I-495).

Posted by: C. P. Zilliacus on July 27, 2008 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

Most other parts of the country do not have the number of different freeways we have here in SoCal. Most cities have a main freeway running through or near the city and a Loop that rings the city, along with a few highways and/or expressways leading in and out.

SoCal, on the other hand, has a network of freeways. The common usage of "Take the freeway," as opposed to surface streets, is often ambiguous unless you specify the actual freeway. Also it is not always obvious which freeway is the best to take given time of day and final destination. For brevity, because we're always in a hurry, we assume we are talking freeways when we say, "The 10" or "The 405."

Posted by: KitchonaSteve on July 27, 2008 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

In VA, definite article when the road has a name (the Beltway, the Blue Ridge Parkway); no article when or I- for an interstate (95, 81) or "the interstate" when there's only one in the neighborhood ("freeway" not used); "pike" for "turnpike;" "Route [x]" for non-interstates (Route 1, Route 58).

Local variable: "Route" is pronounced "root," "rowt" or, among some natives, with the old English provincial pronunciation of "ou," something like "AH-OO." (Distinct from the Canadian pronounciation, which has less "OO" to it.)

Posted by: allbetsareoff on July 27, 2008 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

I have heard many people in Seattle call it "the 5" but perhaps those are just the southern California transplants.

It Atlanta, everyone calls the highways 75, 85, etc.

Posted by: brm on July 27, 2008 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

Clearly, freeways take the definite article in SoCal because they are so central to our regional identity. The 5 isn't just some road, it's an institution.

Posted by: Trevor on July 27, 2008 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

I asked my husband, a native Angeleno, to take me through all the local highways of his youth. I keyboarded his answers as he spoke:

The 2 the 210 and the Angeles Crest Highway. And the 134 (that's the Ventura). The 101, which is the Hollywood; the 110, which is the Pasadena Freeway--which is also referred to as the Harbor Freeway once you get past downtown because it runs from Pasadena to Long Beach. Then there's the 10, which is the Santa Monica Freeway, and then of course the grandaddy of them all which is the 5, which is the Golden State Freeway.

I then asked him to name the same in Northern California, with which he is very familiar. He held on to the definite article:

The 80, and then the 580 the 680 and the 480.

In short, he appends the definite article to all highway designations in California, north and south.

In Denver, he said he would give the following directions to get to Vail: "Take 6th Avenue westbound to 70."

Fascinating.

So why the definite article for highways and freeways in California? I asked him. "Because there are so many of them," he replied without hesitation, adding, "I know what it is":

The reason is that when the freeways in Southern California were created, back in the early 1940s, they didn't have numbers, they just had names. It was "The Pasadena Freeway." Or "the Hollywood Freeway." So when the shorthand of using numbers developed, we were already in the habit of using the definite article.The reason is that when the freeways in SoCal were created, back in the early 1940s, they didn't have numbers, they just had names. It was "The Pasadena Freeway." Or "the Hollywood Freeway." So when the shorthand of using numbers developed, we were already in the habit of using the definite article.

So the definite article is a linguistic artifact of the original proper names.

Posted by: paxr55 on July 27, 2008 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

Apologies for the internal double post above in the final blockquote.

I swear my husband did not repeat himself word for word, nor did I retype, word for word, his summation .

I can't explain the glitch.

Posted by: paxr55 on July 27, 2008 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

Ekim is correct (way up-thread).

In Chicago you drive on the "expressway," not the freeway, and these are the Eisenhower, the Edens, the Dan Ryan, and the Tri-State. To go from the southeast precincts of Chicago into Gary, Indiana, you take "The Skyway."

But you also drive on "I-55" (which doesn't have a name) and did drive on "Route 66.

Sounds like a problem for Nunberg or William Safire.

Posted by: Hemlock for Gadflies on July 27, 2008 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin writes:

"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?"


All the "other Californians" you speak of live in the LA/San Diego metroplex. There's an entire rest of the state that refers to our freeways without that little bit of preciousness.

Posted by: slideguy on July 27, 2008 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

I suspect that we are dealing with the way the English language handles ambiguities. If you preface a number with "the," then it is clear that the number refers to a physical object, in this case a road; in the old days, snobs referred to "the 400" to designate a group of socially ranked people. On the other hand, using a number without the preface suggests that it is an adjective and that the next word will be the noun, as in "take 99 printouts to the forum." Thus using the preface "the" with regard to a freeway protects the listener from having to make that mental switch -- "this number isn't an adjective but a noun" -- that would otherwise have to occur. In places where a road number is so strongly identified with a road, the preface can be omitted, but this is akin to using jargon in the rest of the language.

The interstate numbers on Los Angeles freeways were added after most of them were built. The San Diego Freeway went through west L.A. in the mid-'60s, and the 405 designation came later. By the time the 605 was completed, it was natural just to call it I-605, and the "San Gabriel River Freeway" was more like an honorific.

And yes, the term "freeway" seems to have been a bit of bragging by westerners over the fact that we didn't have turnpikes.

Posted by: Bob G on July 27, 2008 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

Valuethinker: "You've nailed it. This is a Canadian/ northern US thing-- Toronto and Buffalo. The Canadian accent has penetrated across the border, linguists tell us (the flow isn't only from the US to Canada)."

You're overstating the influence of The Shat. More likely, as lampwick first suggested, it derives from Spanish and French, where the direct article as mandatory.

There are problems with this theory: why would French usage be prevalent in English Canada? Is the direct article used in Louisiana? In southern Texas?

Posted by: Grumpy on July 27, 2008 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Here in Virginia it's "Route 29 (or whatever)" for state roads and I-95 (or whatever) for Interstates. One exception: I-64 is generally called Route 64 and I have no idea why. Route is about 50/50 for pronunciation as "root" or "rowt." Sometimes the road is referred to just by its number. We are horribly inconsistent.

Posted by: Brian on July 27, 2008 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

When I was growing up in New Jersey, it was mostly "Route X" - as in (NJ) Route 4 to (NJ) Route 17 to (Interstate) Route 80. The only exception I can remember is US Route 9W, which was only referred to by its number, with no article in front of it. ("Take Route 4 to 9W, then head north.)"

Posted by: BruceK on July 27, 2008 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

So in the arena of linguistic habits what is the difference between "commenters" and "commentators"? The former is fornon-intellectual
peasants who casually leave words on blog sites and the latter for paid tongues in papers and on TVs? The diluted third class mental status
implied in the cardboard taste of "commenter" is self-evident; a commenter is a dumbed downed citizen who is ready to spout on things one and all and reinforces fact in our silly sick democracy how utterly common and impotent is the irrelevant freedom of the mere and easy if not lazy comment in the whelming flux of blogsphere transience and insouciance. "Commentator" connotes reflection, expertise, even if not fully justified. A term with earned and unearned old fashioned dignity and gravitas. As a central aside: As an atheist I get turned on by the psychic lust in the prose of 17th century divines, the passion of their solipsistic head trips (religion pure onanism) because in a world
of less ubiquitous thingness even gaseous religious abstraction and speculation has more impact as if language weighs more on the periodic table and in our chemical souls and a reference to trees then was a stronger hit on our pre-Amazon.com psyches. From their language I sense the hard-on Dimmesdale had for Hester no less in the circumspect indirectness of Hawthorne's storytelling vs. flaccid disconnect between word and thing in my (gag) country. Materialism (not just consumerism) reams out the referential heft of words and ideas. Endorphin warped overload from the world too much with us.

Posted by: Noam Chunky on July 27, 2008 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Brian and allbetsareoff have it right for the DC area in general. Interstates are almost always referred to by their numbers only, and many major highways and 'parkways' are referred to by their names - the BW (Baltimore-Washington), the Clara Barton, the GW (George Washington Parkway), the Whitehurst, etc. In at least one case - the Rock Creek Parkway - people just call it 'Rock Creek' as in 'take Rock Creek to Military.' A truly maddening thing here is that in various parts of the city (especially in Arlington) you can have a e.g. a 20th Street, 20th Road, 20th Place, and 20th Court all in close proximity - and in Arlington, they may be North or South, which can help natives but drives newbies crazy. And any of them can come to an abrupt end but recommence elsewhere without any information indicating where the rest of the road is.

Posted by: DCBob on July 27, 2008 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

I've lived my entire life in Northern California and have never heard a highway referred to as "the." Such use must be a regionalism of the strange people who live to the south, who have also been heard to referred to our King's Highway as "the El Camino."

Posted by: Bonnie on July 27, 2008 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

In the Boston area, the road is often called by "type." So 93 is the Expressway, 90 is the Pike or Turnpike. Route 128 is Route 128, except when its 95 or 93. Confusing.

Posted by: Dan on July 27, 2008 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

The argument that claims this phenomenon arose because SoCal freeways originally were named rather than numbered doesn't hold water. Los Angeles wasn't the only place where this was the case. Back in olden times highways 880, 580, 13 in Oakland were known as the Nimitz, the MacArthur, and the Warren, respectively. 580 north of Oakland was the Eastshore. 101 south of SF was the Bayshore.

And on the subject of not holding water, the distinction between NorCal and Socal is itself a shibboleth. (By the way, every sane person knows that Northern California ends just south of Willits (look at a map).) The real divide in this state is between Wet California and Dry California, a fact that would be made obvious if the water diversion projects were ever turned off.

Posted by: jm on July 27, 2008 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

There are still parts of Southern Appalachia where you call the major road going through "The four lane."

Posted by: gem on July 27, 2008 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

The brits do this too. They don't go to a university or a hospital, just "to university" or "to hospital". It's as if both were some type of institution similar to how we say we went "to church."

Given that, our idioms and bizarre spelling rules, I don't know how anyone learns english as a second language.

Posted by: jpmist on July 27, 2008 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

UK practice: it's the A, B, or M and its number, unless it has a longstanding name, which is rare. The A590(M) is the East Lancs Road; various sections of the A1 are the Great North Road. A specific point is that London streets are often "the" Old Kent Road or whatever - but not always, and not according to any obvious pattern. (Always the Euston Road or the Victoria Embankment; never the Tottenham Court Road in my experience.)

Railways are the same - the East Coast Main Line (or the London North Eastern if you're old enough), not ECML.

We don't do romantic road naming. France does but no-one uses the names. (A-6: Autoroute du Soleil - Highway of the Sun. How cool is that? Pity it also holds the world record for the length of a traffic jam.)

Australia has some great names; the Matilda Highway through the NSW and Queensland outback, the Great Northern from Perth to Port Hedland and on to Wyndham...the Connie Sue in the South Australian desert, named after the chief engineer's baby daughter born on the surveying trip, the Capricorn, which follows the tropic...

Posted by: Alex on July 27, 2008 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

My guess is Rick Dees started it and since he is the hero of all of you down there, you all copied him.

;)

Posted by: david in norcal on July 27, 2008 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

As transplant from LA to the bay area (by way of the mid west) this is not the first time I see them turning their noses up at SoCal ways.
Over here it is "The Bay Bridge", "The Dumbarton" "The Caldecott"...even "The Sunol Grade". However when people it is just as often 'Dumbarton Bridge' as it is "the dumbarton" or "Caldecott Tunnel" as it is "The Caldecott"; Given that we are speculating let me do some of my own. The definitely article is used when we drop the noun and just use the name.
So in that vein, "The 605" is an alternative to 'Highway 605'

Posted by: Sam Jackson on July 27, 2008 at 9:53 PM | PERMALINK

We may be wrong, but at least we're linguists. My bilingual wife agrees that the Spanish definite article (as in el camino, la calle, with or without a following number or name) is automatic, but we also agree that it's not likely to have any bearing here. My guess is that the article served and still serves to distinguish them from other types of roads and streets. In SoCal (of course) most of these are wide multi-lane monsters, elevated between overpasses (or briefly down in cuts) above or below mere city streets and other roads. So they needed not just a number but a category identifier. At first this was apparently done by using 'the X freeway' to distinguish it from other types of road, and a number or name to identify it. But you don't need both: 'the 405' or 'the San Diego' are just as informative as 'the 405 Freeway. Incidentally, not all of our freeways are interstates, oh ye of little cities. Where I grew up in southern WI, near (highway) 41, it was just '41'.

Posted by: John G. Fought on July 28, 2008 at 2:24 AM | PERMALINK

Boston:

My wife calls 128 95, but most people I know call it 128, even when it's 93 (which it isn't and hasn't been for many years). If I listen to the traffic radio I can hear about Route 2, Route 3, the Expressway, the Pike, 95, 93 and 128 or Route 128. Also places like Trapelo Road, Leverett offramp and various splits here and there.

Me, I take Route 20 to the Pike in the morning. While I usually get my traffic report from AM radio, it's rather amusing to listen to the traffic station on satellite radio and hear them totally mispronounce places like Peabody.

Posted by: Lefty on July 28, 2008 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Don't know if this is limited to SoCal, but nobody I know ever answers the question "How far is it?" by citing distance. It's always time. "How far is it to Oxnard?" answer: "'Bout twenty minutes."

My take on not using a freeway's name, such as "the San Diego Freeway" is because it's many freeways. Travel up and down this road and every so often you'll see a sign such as "The Shirley Ujest Freeway" honoring some local personage, fallen hero, or crime victim. This is true of most SoCal freeways.

And if freeways are free, why aren't toll roads called payways?

As far as putting "the" in front of a freeway number, San Diegans were doing that when I first moved there in 1983. I have no clue where or how it started, but grammatically correct or not, it's a convenient shorthand.


Posted by: mike sledge on July 28, 2008 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

In Texas, particular central Texas, it's IH-xx (IH-35, IH-10, IH-410). Supposedly, the then Texas Highway Dept. wanted to use two-characters for all of their road designations (US, TX, FM - Farm-to-Market, RR - RR - Ranch Road). For those not familiar with the latter (basically, FMs in the east & RRs in the west), they are secondary roads that, in many (most?) cases are better than the state-numbered highways in other states.

As a fun exercise, do a search for "IH-35" (which runs from the Mexican border to 150 miles south of the Canadian border) or "IH-10" (which runs from the Atlantic to the Pacific) and note the locations.

Posted by: DI on July 28, 2008 at 7:52 PM | PERMALINK

As others have mentioned, in Buffalo/WNY - it is 'the 90', 'the 33', 'the 190'.

For the longest time the Buffalo TV stations were the only access to American TV for Toronto and Southern Ontario. It wouldn't be surprising if they picked up 'the' habit by watching Irv on Eyewitness News.

Posted by: VMH on July 28, 2008 at 9:41 PM | PERMALINK

I think preceding neighborhood names in SF with 'the' is because many of them were originally refered to as 'the xxx district' whereas in other cities most neighborhood names come from previously independent cities, prominent subdivisions or geographic features.

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