Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 28, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

HIGHWAY LINGUISTICS....PART 3....I know you've all been transfixed by this weekend's discussion of Southern California's habit of prepending "the" to freeway numbers, haven't you? So here it is: one final post with the long-awaited semi-official explanation for this phenomenon. It's official because it appears in an academic journal, but only semi because I remain a little skeptical anyway. It's below the fold on the off chance that you couldn't care less about all this.

The article is called "The" Freeway in Southern California, by Grant Geyer, and it appeared as a note in the summer 2001 issue of American Speech. His story starts at about the time that LA's original five freeways were being built in the 30s and 40s:

In about 1941, just before the completion of the first of the famous freeways, intercity traffic came into Los Angeles on the north-south axis on U.S. 99, U.S. 101, or California Route 1....Before the freeways were built, locals generally preferred the old, time-honored street or road names instead of numbers in conversation. So for 'U.S. 99' they said San Fernando Road because the highway followed that particular named street, as far as the distant end of "town." Likewise, 'U.S. 101' was Ventura Boulevard and 'Route 1' was Pacific Coast Highway....Route 1 or Route 101 was not used in town.

My mother, who grew up in LA, confirms this. Within "town" (basically LA County) names were used for these routes. Outside of town, they were referred to by number. Onward:

When the federal interstate system grew up, the southern California area got its share of funding and road numbers....However, for the first 20 years of the interstate system, no one used the numerical designations....The interstate routes around Los Angeles were called the Ventura Freeway, the Hollywood Freeway, the Santa Ana Freeway, the Golden State Freeway, the San Bernardino Freeway, the Pasadena Freeway, the Glendale Freeway, the San Diego Freeway, the Santa Monica Freeway, the Harbor Freeway, the Riverside Freeway, and the Long Beach Freeway.

....The strange-sounding usage of the plus number, as in the 118, was the natural result of an amazing proliferation of new, minor interstate cutovers, extensions, and bypasses that began about 1975....[It] was even more pronounced when new major Los Angeles interstates sprang up without having any precursors and without being extensions of earlier, nonnumerical freeways. The first one I remember in this category was the 605 Freeway.

This gibes with my memory too. I-605 is officially called the San Gabriel River Freeway, but nobody ever calls it that. It's always been the 605. Geyer goes on to say that other areas, including Northern California, also have names for their highways, "but they evidently weren't emblazoned Bay-wide in the minds and argot of northern drivers and direction-givers."

But southern Californians represent the archetype of the car society; they have needed that article since the dawn of the freeway. Many regions have freeways with the names: the Henry Fords and Dan Ryans come to mind. But Chicagoans don't say the 290. Surely no other part of the country — certainly not San Francisco/Oakland — had such a long history and large quantity of nonnumerical the freeways. When the numbers arrived, the 134 Freeway and the 605 and their many newer siblings just joined people's long, 50-year, tried-and-true list of the designations for highways.

Maybe this is the right explanation, but I'm still a little skeptical. Partly this is because Geyer's "archetype of the car society" conclusion is the kind of pop sociology that I'm automatically suspicious of. Beyond that, though, I've got one serious objection along with a suggestion for further research.

My objection is that this is all pretty ad hoc. Basically, Geyer is saying that other big cities had named highways too, but they just didn't have quite as many as LA, so the never caught on. But if all your highways have names, and that's the original source of the, then why would it matter how many you had? You either get accustomed to referring to them by name or you don't, and if you do, you'd be just as likely as LA to evolve to using the with a numerical designator too. But nobody else did.

More specifically, what about New York City? Like LA, it had plenty of highways before and during the construction of the interstate system, and they all had names: the Long Island Expressway, the Van Wyck, the Belt Parkway, etc. As in LA, those names are still commonly used. But unlike LA, when numerical designators are used, New Yorkers don't prepend a the. Why?

So I'm not entirely convinced by this. However, for anyone with a ProQuest subscription and too much time on their hands, I have a research project that might move the conversation forward a bit. I spoke to my mother this evening, and she initially remembered always referring to, say, U.S. 101 as the 101. (For the section outside of LA, of course.) Upon further reflection, though, she became less sure of this. Now, outside of LA, U.S. 101 has no name, so there's no way to refer to it except as U.S. 101 or highway 101 or the 101. This means that newspaper articles in the 30s and 40s must have referred to it by one of these designations. So which was it? Have Angelenos always referred to it as the 101, or did that practice start only at a specific point in time? If the latter, that might be a clue that Geyer is right about the becoming entrenched only in the 70s.

In any case, that's it. Further suggestions on this vital topic are welcome, but for now that's all we've got. Make of it what you will.

UPDATE: A potentially important new bit of evidence: according to Stentor Danielson, the is common in Arizona too, which suggests this habit might be a southwestern thing, not just an LA thing. As far as I know, Arizona never had a huge migration of Southern Californians, nor do they receive our radio and TV stations. But if this usage popped up anyway, maybe there's more to this than just a purely LA habit?

UPDATE 2: Why didn't New York pick up the "prepended the" habit too? Martin Schneider suggests that it would have been confusing: "in New York, if you say the 1 or the 3, you're probably referring to a subway."

Kevin Drum 1:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (82)

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In the Bay Area, the only freeways that are commonly referred to by name are US-101 as The Bayshore and I-880 (formerly CA-17) as The Nimitz. I-280 is occasionally referred to as The Junipero Serra. Those are, as far as I know, the oldest freeways in the area. The others have names, but I doubt many people know them. The Embarcadero Freeway (originally I-480, later part of I-280) was usually called by name, but it was torn down after the Loma Prieta Earthquake.

Posted by: OriGuy on July 28, 2008 at 2:03 AM | PERMALINK

Interesting. I've discovered I have the amusing habit of code switching unconsciously between Northern and Southern Californian freeway naming conventions (an SF native, I have split my time between SF and LA for the last 10 years).

Posted by: on July 28, 2008 at 2:04 AM | PERMALINK

OriGuy: the other Bay Area highway that's referred to by name is 17. Its name is "over the hill". More seriously, there are several other numbered state highways that are called by name (though they don't exactly count as freeways): Skyline, El Camino, etc.

As for 'Route 1' was Pacific Coast Highway....Route 1 or Route 101 was not used in town.: In my experience, in Orange County, California State Highway 1 is still mainly called PCH.

Posted by: Wireless Enthusiast on July 28, 2008 at 2:16 AM | PERMALINK

This may be a confusion on my part, having spent my first years out of graduate school in Pasadena, but now that I am here in the Bay Area (San Francisco, then San Jose), I prepend "the" to area freeways, and call them "The 101" and "The 880". The exception is when I refer to a specific direction: "101 North" or "880 South".

In fact, I assumed that everyone does this, until I read your blog posts. I'll have to do some careful listening to my co-workers come Monday. Ugh. I hate listening carefully to my co-workers.

Posted by: anonymous 37 on July 28, 2008 at 2:19 AM | PERMALINK

People on this side of the bay say "280" but "101" and "the 101" seem like they are pretty even. I think maybe they learn it because the have "the 101" in LA too, and so many people here group up there. Chicago is pretty big on their names (the Eisenhower, the Kennedy, etc.)

I buy the guy's argument- other places have Freeways named after stuff, not where the roads go, so it is a little different remember a bunch of names of freeways that can be confused with destinations in between as opposed to the termini. When you take "the Van Wyck" or "the Kennedy" it's just not as confusing.


Posted by: Pinko Punko on July 28, 2008 at 2:30 AM | PERMALINK

It's time you southern degenerates bow to the cultural superiority of your northern betters and stop adding the superfluous "the" to highway designations.

A prime benefit of this would be the cessation of your posting these threads.

Posted by: NoCal Dude on July 28, 2008 at 2:35 AM | PERMALINK

I'll be traveling on the One after 909

Posted by: punaise on July 28, 2008 at 2:35 AM | PERMALINK

As a native to the South Bay, if I hear someone refer to it as 'the 101', they've instantly identified themselves as a SoCal transplant. But after spending a few years down their at college, I know it's much nicer up here so I don't hold their weird linguistic tics against them.

Posted by: sherij on July 28, 2008 at 2:51 AM | PERMALINK

Click me, you know you're going to.

Posted by: Ponch and Erik on July 28, 2008 at 2:54 AM | PERMALINK

US 101 does have a name outside of LA, but it is rarely used: El Camino Real, "The Royal Road" or "The King's Highway"--the King being God, because the road connected the Franciscan mission chain. There are mission bells on stanchions up and down 101 between LA and San Jose, possibly elsewhere, to commemorate "El Camino Real".

There are still pieces of the road named El Camino in San Diego County, and the portion of El Camino that runs from Santa Clara to Brisbane used to be US 101 until Bayshore Road was turned into a freeway and received the designation.

Saying "The El Camino" would be redundant, and I've never heard it (unlike "The Sierra Nevada Mountains", which is pretty common.)

Posted by: red@cted on July 28, 2008 at 2:56 AM | PERMALINK

Click here for 1950's Southern California Freeway Goodness

Posted by: Broderick on July 28, 2008 at 2:56 AM | PERMALINK

Another Bay Area resident weighing in. I've actually paid a lot of attention to the "thes" because I've always wondered different numbers get different treatments. All of the 80 freeways (80, 280, etc) I usually call by number -- I happen to live between 580 and 880, and I'd never add "the" -- but I always always say "the 101".

When I lived in Arizona I would have said "the 10" or "I-10" but at least for me that seems to be sound-based. Ten is a short syllable and it gets aurally lost without a prefix to give a context cue. I do the same for Hwy 1 or "the 1" along the coast. When I lived in Chicago I would have never added a "the" for the numbered highways although I did often use the names and always with the "the". The stupidest highway sign I've ever seen was one that said "to Ike Xpy". To navigate using that sign you have to decipher two abbreviations, one of which requires history knowledge, and which highway number the Eisenhower translates to.

(Someone mentioned east bay neighborhoods, and I had a quibble. Yes, it might be the Laurel but in my 6 years living in Oakland I have never heard anyone say "the Rockridge"!)

Posted by: filosofickle on July 28, 2008 at 3:06 AM | PERMALINK

It probably is just a habit fostered by a radio announcer, like "sigalert".

A problem with the names of Southern California freeways is that they change so often. I-5 is here the Santa Ana, there the Golden State. The 405 is both the Santa Monica and the San Diego. Radio announcers can't use the local names, because their coverage is too wide. (Remember, everyone, that most metropolitan areas don't have a mountain as high as Mt. Wilson on which to place their radio transmitters.)

There's also the fact that we have so many freeways and not all of them are part of the interstate highway system. US 101 and US 99, I-5, I-405. I'm not sure which systems the 55, 57 and 17 belong to.

In my town, P.C.H. is called either South Coast Highway or North Coast Highway, with the midpoint at the Canyon Road (aka the 133). In Newport Beach, it's called East Coast Highway. No shit.

Posted by: bad Jim on July 28, 2008 at 3:17 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I didn't want to argue with Leila, but in my 10 years in Berkeley, I never heard anyone mention "the Rockridge" or "The Elmwood." It was Rockridge, Elmwood, Piedmont, and jebus I miss them.

Down in LA, I am hopeful for (a sane version of) the Larry Niven notion of the San Diego Freeway near Santa Monica. It's not a panacea, but it is much more environmentally sound. In his version, the freeway is turned into a park and renamed King's Free Park. No violence allowed and no other laws either. All guaranteed by omnipresent floating cameras.

http://www.larryniven.org/stories/cloak_of_anarchy.shtml

Posted by: jerry on July 28, 2008 at 3:37 AM | PERMALINK

The other thing, if you haven't noticed, is that Bay Area freeway names designate geographic locations or names: Eastshore, Bayshore, Warren, Central, Macarthur, etc. They denote the location of the freeway geographically. LA freeways have always designated the final destination, or major "control city": Pomona, Santa Monica, Santa Ana, Hollywood, Ventura, etc. (the exceptions being the Golden State and San Gabriel River freeways). Thus, LA freeway names are stickier because if you take the Ventura Freeway, you're either headed to or from Ventura. On the Santa Ana freeway, to or from Santa Ana, etc. "Eastshore" doesn't tell you anything about the final destination, only that you are on the east shore of San Francisco Bay.

Posted by: calwatch on July 28, 2008 at 3:48 AM | PERMALINK

But unlike LA, when numerical designators are used, New Yorkers don't prepend a the. Why?

I have never heard my father born in Yonkers, nor my mother born in Queens, both now in their mid- sixties, ever use the numerical designation for a NYC tri-state area freeway.*

Likewise, in the countless hours I spent listening to 1010 wins (from age 6-17, last hour of every trip to see the grandparents, first hour of ever trip to return home) I do not recall them ever using the numerical designation either, with the possible exception of I-95 for the New England Turnpike (back when it was a toll road in Conn)


*for that matter, I've never heard them use 'freeway' always 'highway' or 'parkway' as appropriate - which incidentally screwed me up when taking the Va drivers test at age 16, after NoVa became urban, but before it became blue

Posted by: Kolohe on July 28, 2008 at 4:05 AM | PERMALINK


Well, it's settled then. We just don't know.

Posted by: James on July 28, 2008 at 4:10 AM | PERMALINK

The expressways in St. Louis have names; it's just that nobody ever uses them. I-55 is the Ozark Expressway, I-64/US 40 is the Daniel Boone Expressway. (As the Daniel Boone predates the Interstate system, you'll occasionally hear old-timers refer to it by name.) I-70 was the Mark Twain Expressway until Mark McGwire hit his 70 homers; then they had a big ceremony where it was renamed the Mark McGwire Expressway (I-70, 70 home runs - get it?) To me, this was a travesty of sorts - AFAIK, Mark Twain never wrote any of his works on steroids. St. Louisans paid little attention, though. They just kept calling the highway I-70 like they always had.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on July 28, 2008 at 4:19 AM | PERMALINK

The 405 is never called the Santa Monica. Only the 10 is called the Santa Monica, which is also known as Rosa Parks Freeway in L.A. and is also part of the Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway, but those two names are basically trivia. My memory of how the names versus numbers chronology evolved jibes with Geyer and Momma Drum. And I also agree with the notion that people began to refer to interstates by number when the 605 opened up. Even the 60 was referred to as the Pomona Freeway for a long time. People also objected to the naming of the 90 as the Richard Nixon Freeway and refused to call it that in favor of the number. As outsiders began to immigrate to L.A. more and more people began to refer to interstates by their numbers, too. To them it was the 10, the 101, the 405, the 605, the 210, the 55, the 710 (though this is commonly still called the Long Beach Freeway), the 60, etc.. Interstate 5 is almost always called I-5 out of town, the 5 in town. Otherwise, no one really calls any of the above roads with the I- prefix, especially in town. I believe references to out of town highways seem to more easily drop the "the", such as "395" which is a rural highway connecting the Owens Valley to San Bernardino County, running to the north of Los Angeles. "Highway" also seems to be easily appendaged to 99, 101, 395, and 1.

Posted by: DavidLA on July 28, 2008 at 4:24 AM | PERMALINK

http://www.hulu.com/videos/search?query=rockford

Freeways and Los Angeles. What more could anyone want?

Posted by: jerry on July 28, 2008 at 5:14 AM | PERMALINK

It's not just a California thing; we do the same in Buffalo, and one of my commenters claims that they also refer to highways this way ("the 401") in Toronto.

Posted by: Jaquandor on July 28, 2008 at 6:33 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, Chicagoans do say "the 290." In fact, it's one of the few highways (not "freeways") we use "the" with. We don't say "the 90/94" (we say "the Kennedy" or "the Dan Ryan" instead); we don't say "the 55." But we do, at least some of the time, say "the 290." Too bad the one example Geyer chose was the one that contradicts his story.

Posted by: rabbit on July 28, 2008 at 7:05 AM | PERMALINK

red@cted, actually the King was the King, i.e. the King of Spain. People don't seem to realize that California was once part of the Spanish Empire.

Posted by: rabbit on July 28, 2008 at 7:10 AM | PERMALINK

It has to do with the traffic annoucers. In Houston (at least at one time) the traffic annoucers always referred to the highways by their names (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Houston_highways#Present ). Sincere there was an I-10 and I45 on both sides of downtown, the names helped people know what road the annoucers was taking about.

In DC, everyone uses the numbers (I-95, I-66, U.S. 50 with the exception of BW Parkway instead of 295). However, the traffic announcers use the clarifying term of "Starting in Maryland, or Starting in Virginia) to distinguish between I-95 in Virginia versus I-95 in Maryland.

Posted by: superdestroyer on July 28, 2008 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

Well, I don't know. Out here in the rural NE it's common to refer to a road with a town name in it using the definite article (Peruville Road is often called "the Peruville road," etc.), so that would seem to be consistent with the tale told by Geyer.

Posted by: Melinda on July 28, 2008 at 8:27 AM | PERMALINK

I must differ with filosofickle and jerry above: I've lived in Oakland since 1977 (and in the Rockridge for the first 21 years until I was driven out by a realtor with a flaming sword), and it's always been "the Rockridge" (and for that matter "the Elmwood"), as in "there's a pretty good new restaurant in the Rockridge."

That neighborhood (which I, too, miss desperately, although my present, article-less area of Adams Point is gradually gentrifying) has the distinction of having inspired the term "yuppie," first devised by local writer Alice Kahn in a satirical article in The East Bay Express late in 1983, going viral after it was reprinted by the LA Times early the following year when the Hart candidacy briefly caught fire.

Pardon the insurrection, and back on the freeway, which is already in progress...

Posted by: Rand Careaga on July 28, 2008 at 9:09 AM | PERMALINK

"More specifically, what about New York City? Like LA, it had plenty of highways before and during the construction of the interstate system, and they all had names: the Long Island Expressway, the Van Wyck, the Belt Parkway, etc. As in LA, those names are still commonly used. But unlike LA, when numerical designators are used, New Yorkers don't prepend a the. Why?"

I used to do a lot of courier driving in and around NYC, and I think I have an answer to this one. New Yorkers never bother to learn the numerical designators. I drove there daily for years, and I still couldn't tell you what number the Van Wyck is, or the Major Deegan, or almost any of them for that matter. Why we don't ever use the numbers is still a question. It might have to do with distances involved. My impression is that the LA freeways go much longer distances. (For instance, one of the number/name combinations I do know is that the Thruway is I-87, but that is a road that isn't right in the city.)

Posted by: on July 28, 2008 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

I'm oriingally from the Southland now living in DC. With the exception of the Beltway, numbers rule here. I'm always amused when I travel the number of cities that have "secret" names for the roads. Ever try listening to a traffic report on the road and try to figure out if you're heading right for it? In my experience, older cities are the worst. NY, LA and Chicago (the "Ryan"), are the biggest offenders.

Posted by: do on July 28, 2008 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

In NYC with its avenues and streets number designations were likely as natural as anything else. In other areas the interstate didn't really replace or grow out of existing highways. They were new highways unto themselves and the old highways they ended up replacing were still in existence. If they didn't replace old ones they wouldn't have an old name that they would be known as.

What I want to know is the reason that highways in the Kansas City area are referred to number first, as in 210 highway, or 35 interstate. That's what I want to know.

Posted by: crack on July 28, 2008 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

It has probably already been mentioned, but, at least in SoCal, the names of freeways are direction dependent, in many cases, San Diego Freeway referring to either the I-5 southbound or the 405 southbound. The Santa Monica can refer to the I-10 westbound or the 405 northbound.

Context is important.

Another SoCal-ism. My grandparents always referred to the hot, dry desert wind, generally late summer, as a "santana" - devil wind, but the wx-men of the 50's seemed to have corrupted that to "Santa Anas", from where the wind seemed to come.

Posted by: IntelVet on July 28, 2008 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

My father, who was born in LA in 1923, referred to a four-way stop as a "boulevard stop." His mother, who was born in Cucomonga (sp?), referred to Santa Ana (the city, not the wind) as "Santy Annie."

Other than that, I agree with the people who say the 605 was the first freeway referred to by its number. Before that they all had names. I personally remember when the Santa Monica freeway was built. And I remember back before the 405 went across the hills to the valley, there was a road with a tunnel where we once had a flat tire. Ah, the memories.

My experience in other parts of the country is that they don't have as many "freeways", so they call them interstates. If I were to call an interstate here in Nashville a "freeway" people would look at me funny. Of course that wouldn't matter so much since they already look at me funny.

Posted by: mdsand on July 28, 2008 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

As a native of Ontario, I can confirm
the comment of Jaquandor that we do call
our major highway 'the 401' as well as prepending
the to newer ones such as the 409.

Posted by: TM on July 28, 2008 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

LA Times Proquest during coffee:

1920-1930
9 references to "highway 101"
0 references to "the 101 highway"

1930-1940
405 references to "highway 101"
3 references to "the 101 highway"

1940-1950
1142 references to "highway 101"
5 references to "the 101 highway"

First 3 references:

"the new La Cuesta Highway over the Santa Lucia Mountains set for Saturday, removal of last "bottle neck" to traffic on El Camino Real, the 101 Highway, will be celebrated here with elaborate ceremonies" -- November 1, 1938

"Built at the cost of more than $20,000,000 the broad paved highway will present a new pleasure route between San Francisco and Los Angeles, leaving the 101 highway at Salinas and rejoining it at San Luis Obispo" -- June 13, 1937

"automobile collision near Arroyo Grande on the 101 Highway this morning" -- Oct 4, 1938

The 1940's references are relative to Santa Barbara (3), Ventura (1), Carpinteria (1).

Anyway, I think we can blame it on a mentally impaired beat reporter and a sloppy editor starting in approximately 1937. Chances are he moved to Santa Barbara in the early 1940's.


Posted by: B on July 28, 2008 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

Can we please, please stop conflating "Southern California" and "Los Angeles/Orange County?" Because as a native and 30-year resident of San Diego County (further south than either LA or OC, thankyouverymuch), I never used "the" to refer to 8, 15, 163, 5, or 805.

No names, either. Just numbers, as God and General Eisenhower intended.

Posted by: elmo on July 28, 2008 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

"Anyway, I think we can blame it on a mentally impaired beat reporter"

Or maybe just colloquial language making it into a slightly more formal medium.

Posted by: B on July 28, 2008 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

Here in Rhode Island, highways are referred to as "95", and occasionally "I-95". In Italy, everything has an article: ("L'Autostrada del Sole", "L'A-5").
When I lived in Arizona, we did not use articles, unlike filosofickle, but I lived in the middle of nowhere (I-17 & AZ-69).

Posted by: Peter VE on July 28, 2008 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

The Warren freeway, which was mentioned earlier, is a little bitty spur between 24 & I 580 in the East Bay.

This is one of the few freeways around here which has that Southern California style "the" prefixed to it. It's also one of the very few whose name is used more often than its number - 13 - maybe that's why. I hear 13 more often than I used to, perhaps things are changing.

I wonder if the reason for "the" may not have something to do with the word "freeway". We usually say Interstate 80 or Highway 101 here and it would be strange to say the Interstate ... or the Highway ... or the State Road .... But freeway is usually after the numeric or name; if I use this style of naming I want to say, take the SR 571 freeway, take the 101 freeway, take the Macarthur expressway. When I drop the long adjective I might keep the "the" as a hint about what I'm talking about.

Posted by: nurreddin on July 28, 2008 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin,
How about a post on how northern Californians are so hateful of southern California and how southern Californians are basicly indifferent to northern California.

Posted by: Aaron on July 28, 2008 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

@elmo: Because as a native and 30-year resident of San Diego County (further south than either LA or OC, thankyouverymuch), I never used "the" to refer to 8, 15, 163, 5, or 805.

I've lived in San Diego for about the last 25 years and you're right about San Diego not being LA or OC -- it's much, much worse than that (someone, please rescue me!). Maybe it's because I'm a transplant from the Bay Area or hang around a lot of former Angelenos, but I often refer to "the 15" or "the 805".

I think it depends on context. I was about to say that I never refer to the state highways, the 78 or the 52 as "the 78" or "the 52" but then I just did.

If I was giving directions, I'd probably say something like "take 78 to the 15 and go north. . . you'll be out of this hellhole in no time. . ."

Go figure.

Posted by: Steve on July 28, 2008 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Give 'em names as we do in Chicago; the Eisenhower, the Stevenson, the Mussolini.

Posted by: Luther on July 28, 2008 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

This still doesn't address why the "the' is used in Orlando, Florida. Disney influence, perhaps?

Posted by: pjbacfl on July 28, 2008 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

"red@cted, actually the King was the King, i.e. the King of Spain. People don't seem to realize that California was once part of the Spanish Empire."

By Wiki, you're right. I guess those nuns in grade school were engaged in an early propaganda effort.

Posted by: red@cted on July 28, 2008 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

Dude, Kevin--I posted that explanation in the comments last time this came up.

Posted by: Jon on July 28, 2008 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

Prepending the to freeway names is correct. When will the rest of you ketchup? In LowCal its:

The 5 (Mex to Canada)
The 15 (Mex to Utah)
The 805 (Mid city)
The 8 (OB to Tucson)
The 94 (Downtown to Lemon Grove)
The 52 (La Jolla to Santee)
The 56 (Del Mar to Poway)
The 78 (Oside to Escondido)
The 67 (Lakeside to Romona)
The 909 (Along the border somewhere)
The 125 (Santee to Otay)

Its also called freeway unless its Pacific Coast Highway or if they make you pay, in which case its called a Toll Road (despite the fact that its a freeway)

Posted by: the fake fake al on July 28, 2008 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

@Steve:

If I was giving directions, I'd probably say something like "take 78 to the 15 and go north. . . you'll be out of this hellhole in no time. . ."

Well, that explains it -- if you're driving on 78, you're waaaaaaay up in North County, so naturally some of the poison is going to seep down past Camp Pendleton and get to you. :-)

And maybe it's just a more recent phenomenon, of a piece with the rest of SD County becoming more and more indistinguishable from its northern neighbors. I left in 1996, precisely because I could no longer tell the San Diego lawyers from the Los Angeles lawyers within a minute of walking into a courtroom. But living in East County from 1968 to 1996, I can say that I never ever ever heard 8, 15, or 67 referred to as "the." (Back then, 52 was strictly a La Jolla road, and didn't go all the way to Santee the way it does now.)

Posted by: elmo on July 28, 2008 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

When I moved down to LA in the late 80's, the way people here referred to the freeway sounded weird and awkward to me. Now I add the 'the' without even thinking about it. Interestingly, when I am back in the Bay Area, if it is a road that I used all the time in the past, I revert to my original pattern but if it is a new* freeway like the 85 - well there you go.

*The 85 did exist for decades as a minor spur that made made getting to 280 and 101 from Cupertino slightly easier so it was originally in my brain as 85 but now that it is actually completed, the freeway now truly exists. Or something like that.

Posted by: cthulhu on July 28, 2008 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

To reiterate another 'corrective' post, the 405 is never, ever called the Santa Monica and never will be...it was, is and will always be the San Diego. Got it? Good. The posts about the 'directional' nature of the LA-area naming convention hit the nail on the head re why things are different in the Southland (where I grew up-I now live in Manhattan and, for the life of me, cannot understand how the local news/weather refer to the NY metro region as 'our area.' What's up with that??

Posted by: petey on July 28, 2008 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

In St. Louis they only use numbers. No articles before them (well one acception, a small slice of highway only a few miles long that they call the innerbelt, but increasingly they call that by it's number indication).

Posted by: Bub on July 28, 2008 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

I grew up in the LA area, and I'm old enough to remember what we said before they built the 605.
For routes that weren't "named" freeways, we said "Highway" as going to Las Vegas on Highway 91, or to San Diego on Highway 101. And we only used those numbers for out of town roads. If we were very familiar with the road (my mom's family was from the Bakersfield area), we just used the number, as in, "Once you get past Castaic, just stay on 99 to the Taft cutoff." There was no difference in the way we referred to US or state routes. To get to Crystal Lake, you took Highway 39.

Bottom line, I think the author of the article pretty much got it right.
. . . jim strain in san diego

Posted by: Jim Strain on July 28, 2008 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

I grew up in the LA area, and I'm old enough to remember what we said before they built the 605.
For routes that weren't "named" freeways, we said "Highway" as going to Las Vegas on Highway 91, or to San Diego on Highway 101. And we only used those numbers for out of town roads. If we were very familiar with the road (my mom's family was from the Bakersfield area), we just used the number, as in, "Once you get past Castaic, just stay on 99 to the Taft cutoff." There was no difference in the way we referred to US or state routes. To get to Crystal Lake, you took Highway 39.

Bottom line, I think the author of the article pretty much got it right.
. . . jim strain in san diego

Posted by: Jim Strain on July 28, 2008 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

In a murder mystery by John Sandford, Broken Preey, the crucial cleue is that the killer referred to "the 35," showing that he wasn't a local (the novel is set in Minnesota) but from Southern California. A regular commentor on this site uses the pseudonym "Del Capslock," taken from a character in this novel and series . . .

Posted by: rea on July 28, 2008 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

I grew up in LA, went to school in the Bay Area, and now live in Brooklyn, so I've some relevant experience here.

In LA, I only think in terms of the names although I do know the numbers. So I think "the Santa Monica Freeway" when I see I-10, but since that's a bit of a mouthful I might say "the 10" for short. (An aside: when I visited New Orleans and saw I-10 I immediately thought "oh look, there's the Santa Monica freeway.")

In the Bay Area, everyone just calls them by number.

In New York, I have no idea what the numbers of the freeways are. I live within a stone's throw (well, a couple of throws) from the BQE but I'd have no idea that it was the 278 except for the fact I just looked at google maps. (But you can see, if I were to call it by number I'd use "the".)

(Another aside: since google maps gives directions primarily in terms of road numbers and names it's a little confusing to follow them. I have to remember to ignore the (meaningless to me) number and just look at the names.)

Posted by: Sam Shen on July 28, 2008 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin now shows his ignorance of modern migration:

"As far as I know, Arizona never had a huge migration of Southern Californians."

Where the fuck have you been for the last decade, Kevin? Have you not seen that steady stream of U-Hauls headed east on I-10?

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on July 28, 2008 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

Linguists actually study the use of "the" with proper names. Language Log had a post on it, but I can't find it (it's hard to search the word "the"). There are some regular rules that seem arbitrary, e.g.,

-rivers, seas, and oceans take "the" (the Mississippi River, the Pacific Ocean), but lakes, bays, harbors, straits, sounds, creeks and falls don't (Puget Sound, Hudson Bay, Niagara Falls);

-mountain ranges take "the" (the Shenendoah Mountains) but individual mountains don't (Stony Mountain);

-Penninsulas take "the" (the Gaspe Penninsula); capes, points and beaches don't (Rockaway Beach, Montauk Point);

-countries and cities generally don't take "the" except in some old-fashioned usages and odd exceptions (the Argentine, the Ukraine, the Gambia, The Dalles, The Hague).

-Railroads used to "use" (the B&O, the Great Northern) but they don't anymore (CSX, Amtrak). Corporations and unions used to use "the" (the Anaconda Mining Company, the Travelers Insurance Company, the UAW) but they tend not to nowadays. Some stores used to take "the" (the A&P) but not all did and modern ones generally don't (except for The Gap).

-Buildings tend to take "the" (the Chrysler Building, the Pentagon) but buildings called "house" (usually a British usage) don't (Lever House) - with the exception of "the White House" (compare with "Whitehall").

-Bridges and canals take "the" (the Golden Gate Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Erie Canal, the C&O Canal). Parks don't (Yellowstone Park, Central Park, Rock Creek Park).

-Roads used to take "the" (the Boston Post Road, the National Road) but don't anymore (Rockville Pike).

Posted by: Bloix on July 28, 2008 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

The answer is quite simple.

Driver: "Dispatch I am hauling a load of chairs to San Francisco from Redwood City, what is the best way to proceed?"

Dispatch: "You're to take 101 to San Francisco."

Driver: "My manifest says I have 51 chairs, where am I to get 50 more chairs?"

Dispatch: "No, the Bayshore freeway."

Now if we use the Southern California vernacular:

Driver: "Dispatch I am hauling a load of chairs to San Francisco from Redwood City, what is the best way to proceed?"

Dispatch: "You're to take the 101 to San Francisco."

No Abbott and Costello routine, crisis averted. I also find it amusing that Northern Californians love to point out the usage of "the" and how superfluous it is, but I hear "the" a lot less than I do NorCalers making certain they aren't confused for SoCalers.

Posted by: Brendan on July 28, 2008 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know where rabbit gets the idea that people in Chicago say "the 290". The only place I hear "the" prepended to highway numbers in Chicago is on XM traffic. Or maybe rabbit hangs out with a bunch of SoCal transplants, duude. No native Chicagoan would say "the 290".

Of course, no native Chicagoan would say "the", it would be "da". We say "da Jewel" or "da Jewels" for the grocery store, but not "da 290".

Posted by: Alfonso Bedoya on July 28, 2008 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Hehe a combined total of 300 + (and counting!) comments on highway names, and 37 or so on the commercial loan business. Never let it be said that your readership is made up of boring policy wonks, Kevin:)

Posted by: JBK on July 28, 2008 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Or math whizzes, less than 300 :) But it will get there!

Posted by: JBK on July 28, 2008 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Completely incorrect --
San Diego Freeway is always the 405 -- The 5 is the Santa Ana Freeway.
Yes they both go to San Diego, and they join in Irvine, (close to Kevin's house), but never, never, never is the 5 the San Diego Freeway. (Despite what they think in South County, not that thinking is long on anyone's list down there)

And the Santa Monica Freeway is the portion of the 10 from the 110 to the coast. Never the 405.

Freeway signs may say "North on 405 to Santa Monica", but that does not alter the naming.

Too many non natives in SoCal. Please leave your keys at your bank before you default on your mortgage, and pay the gardiner for 6 months in advance.
Thank you.

Posted by: on July 28, 2008 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

As far as I know, Arizona never had a huge migration of Southern Californians

To echo Jasper and Gadfly, there's a reason why they call Phoenix "Little L.A."

Posted by: scythia on July 28, 2008 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

As far as I know, Arizona never had a huge migration of Southern Californians

Googling:
1980s: Hughes Helicopter moves to Mesa
1990s: Hughes Aircraft (a completely different company), Wells Fargo, Intel
2000s: Paypal, Google,

http://usgovinfo.about.com/cs/censusstatistic/a/aagoingeast.htm

According to new Census 2000 reports, Nevada and Arizona had the highest rates of net immigration from other states between 1995 and 2000 and many of their new residents came from California.

Posted by: jerry on July 28, 2008 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

I grew up in LA (in "the" Valley) during the 70s and now live in the Bay Area.

Growing up, I recall hearing the freeways referred to by name more frequently (Santa Ana freeway, Golden State), but numerical references took over. I think it's due to two things.

First, as others have noted, a road with a single numerical designation can have many names. The Santa Ana freeway and the Golden State freeway are both I-5. Calling a road by its number is unambiguous.

Secondly, I've always assumed that part of it is that unlike other places, there was never another option. Things have changed a bit with the Metro and MetroLink in the past decade or so, but while I was growing up, going somewhere in LA meant taking a car. You couldn't take "the bus," "the subway," or anything else. You took "the" freeway.

The road's status as the only real option elevated it to require the definite article.

Asking a native Californian to give directions and listening for the presence or absence of the "the" is a pretty surefire way to tell if someone's from southern or northern California.

Up here in the Bay Area, I call I-5 and US 101 "the 5" and "the 101" without thinking, since they were roads I grew up with in LA. I tend to use "the" when I'm not thinking about it for Bay Area freeways, though natives do not: "880" instead of "the 880".

I only hear traffic reporters refer to "the Nimitz" and "the Bayshore". Everyone else seems to use the numbers.

California's gone on a binge of naming sections of freeway and interchanges for people over the past 10 years or so, and numbers are just easier to remember.

If I drive from the East Bay to San Mateo, I never say that I take the Nimitz Freeway to the J. Arthur Younger Freeway and then switch to the Bayshore Freeway at the Harold "Bizz" Johnson Interchange. I say I'm taking the 880 to the 92 to the 101.

Also, off-topic: "LA" in the general consciousness (IMHO) is everything, more or less, between Santa Barbara and southern Orange County. San Diego will likely get absorbed into the greater LA consciousness at some point, but as long as Camp Pendleton breaks it up, you get a pass. Just live with it. And don't call "the Bay Area" "the Bay". That's just lame.

Posted by: Celos on July 28, 2008 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

In the Northeast, the Feds came along later, helped pay for some connectors, and slapped a number on pre-existing highways. For instance, I-95 was applied to the pre-existing Connecticut Turnpike and the NJ Turnpike north of New Brunswick (and further north, the Maine Turnpike too). Robert Moses used Federal money to cut the Cross Bronx Expressway and the NY Turnpike Authority built the New England Extention.

So, you get "The Turnpike" or "The Thruway" but just 95 or I-95.

Posted by: PSP on July 28, 2008 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

As a linguistics major from waaaayyyy back, here's my .02:

I grew up in the Bay Area but had friends from college (early 80s) who used the "the" construction at that time. It was probably an extention of the usage with proper names e.g. "the Santa Monica", etc. which took hold based on the idiolect of one or more people in positions of influence, e.g. radio announcers, paper editors, Mayor, etc. (See "The Tipping Point" for examples how certain people have greater influence than others in similar situations, great book)

Anyway, that's my theory :)

Posted by: valletta on July 28, 2008 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

As a linguistics major from waaaayyyy back, here's my .02:

I grew up in the Bay Area but had friends from college (early 80s) who used the "the" construction at that time. It was probably an extention of the usage with proper names e.g. "the Santa Monica", etc. which took hold based on the idiolect of one or more people in positions of influence, e.g. radio announcers, paper editors, Mayor, etc. (See "The Tipping Point" for examples how certain people have greater influence than others in similar situations, great book)

Anyway, that's my theory :)

Posted by: valletta on July 28, 2008 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

Up here in Seattle, we have noticed the gradual "Californication" of some of our regional naming conventions. Occasionally, a transplant will use "the 5" or more commonly "the 405" when referring to the north-south freeways in the Seattle area. Some of this has come, I believe, from newscasters, traffic reprters and weather forecasters who have come here from LA. THey have even brought the abomination of calling our largest body of water "the Puget Sound," which to a native's ears sounds like "the Lake Michigan" or "the Mount Shasta." As an English teacher, I find these regional variants interesting.

Posted by: bloglogger on July 28, 2008 at 6:09 PM | PERMALINK

With regard to NY area highways, the answer is that many (if not most) are not part of the Interstate system. The Parkways on Long Island (Northern State, Southern State, Wantaugh, Sagtikos, Meadowbrook, etc.) are not part of the Interstate system. The LIE was NY-495 until the mid-80s, when it became I-495 (by pretending that 34th street through Manhattan links it to the Lincoln Tunnel). In New Jersey, the Garden State Parkway also is not part of the Interstate system. Much of the New Jersey Turnpike also historically was not.

Posted by: Ephus on July 28, 2008 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK

In Oregon, Washington, and the Bay Area, while freeways are called by their number with no 'the' - structures and stoppages are. 'The s curves' or 'the maze' or 'the transit tunnel' are each locations on the highways that should be familiar to drivers in each of those areas. (I chose one from each).

If you notice, many roads in California were named by the Spanish settlers - the names meant where the roads led to, not who plotted them or just for addresses along them. Much like some of the by-ways in the north east.

So each of 'the freeways' were ones that led to or through a location or followed an older road that led to a mission.

In Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties, you'll see that with many of the major streets being the name of the next city over.

Posted by: Crissa on July 28, 2008 at 8:20 PM | PERMALINK

A note about CA-1. It has 2 different names - The Pacifica Coast Highway (PCH) and the Cabrillo Highway.

From the CA Streets and Highways Code:

635. (a) State Highway Route 1 from Las Cruces to San Francisco
shall be known and designated as the "Cabrillo Highway."
(b) State highway routes embracing portions of Routes 280, 82,
238, 101, 5, 72, 12, 37, 121, 87, 162, 185, 92, and 123 and
connecting city streets and county roads thereto, and extending in a
continuous route from Sonoma southerly to the international border
and near the route historically known as El Camino Real shall be
known and designated as "El Camino Real."
(c) State Highway Route 1 from south of San Juan Capistrano to
near El Rio shall be known and designated as the "Pacific Coast
Highway."

(http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=shc&group=00001-01000&file=300-635)

Posted by: Jim on July 29, 2008 at 1:02 AM | PERMALINK

Hmmmm, up here in Portland I think we split the difference. I usually don't hear I-5 or I-84 being referred to with the definate article (I-5 is almost always just "I-5", while I-84 is usually "the Banfield"), but the three-digit routes usually do get "the" treatment (the 205 and the 405).

Posted by: Greg on July 29, 2008 at 2:04 AM | PERMALINK

As far as I know, Arizona never had a huge migration of Southern Californians

This is funny, because I actually almost attributed Arizona's "the"s to just such a migration in my post. "California transplant" is actually a common term of abuse here -- it makes it kind of interesting to be a latte-sipping liberal elitist but fly under the radar because I'm from the wrong coast.

Posted by: Stentor on July 29, 2008 at 2:42 AM | PERMALINK

Speaking as a native Californian with 60 years experience in the Golden State:

The construction "the 5" is relatively new, I would say within the past 10 or 15 years. It began in LA. I think it was from the traffic reporters - they have to compress so much information into their minute-and-a-half that they don't have time to say "the Santa Monica Freeway" when they can just say "the 10".

Before that, we used freeway names or else "highway" whatever. (Blast from the past: does anyone remember the song "Black Denim Trousers", describing a motorcycle rider who was "the terror of highway 101"? No? OK, I kind of figured I was the oldest person here.)

The "the" usage has spread to San DIego and the rest of southern California, but Bay Area folks scorn it - as they do everything that comes out of LA. My San Francisco based son-in-law rolls his eyes whenever he hears me say "the 101".

And by the way, jerry and filofaddle are correct about east bay neighborhood names, and Rand is wrong. The neighborhood in which I was born and raised is "Rockridge," not "the Rockridge." Adding "the" to neighborhoods is a fairly recent affectation. Just ask my daughter, who lives in "the Sunset", or what we used to call the Sunset District.

Posted by: Melanie on July 29, 2008 at 3:40 AM | PERMALINK

Bloix

I think what is going on is transfer from the root languages of English.

I think it is the case that the Norse tongue doesn't use definite articles with all nouns. So northerners in England (once a Viking province) will drop the 'the' in quite distinct ways: 'take dog for a walk' 'go out of house'. Despite the mixing of British society, these regional peculiarities have not disappeared.

Whereas the French language attaches an article to all nouns. This may be why Ontarians persist in 'the 401', and certainly why English speaking Montrealers do.

Ontario English is deeply shaped by English-speaking Scots and Irish who emigrated there in the mid 19th century. In that sense, it formed later, perhaps, than much American English: what is spoken in North Carolina is closer to the England of the 17th-18th century than what is spoken in Ontario which was a colony for much longer.

Interesting to know whether the German influence so strong in the Midwest has influenced language there. Much of German got to American via Yiddish, but there is also a strong Germanic influence in the tonality of Midwesterners, I believe, just as there is a Scandinavian lilt to Minnesotans' language. But I don't know whether that affected the use of the definite article as well.

'The Ukraine' because everyone with ties to that country call it that. 'The Lebanon' is less common, only people with strong Lebanese connections all it that. 'The Hague' is a literal translation 'Den Hague' of the city name.

'The Argentine' is very old-fashioned, I've never heard anyone in Britain use it. I actually thought it referred to the land mass (a la the pampas) rather than the country.

Another weird one for you:

Americans think our chain of food stores is called Sainsbury (ie J Sainsbury PLC). No one English calls it anything other than 'Sainsbury's' (Sainsburies) to rhyme with its mortal rival 'Tescos' (Tesco PLC) and (oop north especially) 'Morrisons' (William Morrison PLC). Asda (the evil WalMart) is still Asda though.

Posted by: Valuethinker on July 29, 2008 at 4:36 AM | PERMALINK

JTFR, I hear "the Elmwood", but "Rockridge". Berkeley rates an article. Oakland doesn't.

Posted by: Andrew J. Lazarus on July 29, 2008 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

My thesis is that the distinction tracks a metaphysical distinction between routes (so-called 'fiat entities', abstract entities that are assigned to a particular path, like borders) and structures like freeways: concrete entities, usually (partially elevated structures, or structures otherwise separated from ordinary fabric of the city). One says "the 101" because one is conceptualizing this as riding on a particular structure, not merely following the route (although the route and the structure coincide). One says "take (Route) 80 all the way across Iowa" because one is conceptualizing the route, not the structure. In LA, the route came into existence when the freeway did, so this concrete entity usage dominates.

Posted by: elihuvedder on July 29, 2008 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

The comment that "this all seems ad hoc" seems to me to reflect some degree of misunderstanding. The thing is that names and naming conventions are heavily ad hoc by nature and reflect an interaction among personal choices, accepted conventions, folk understandings of language phenomena, and real linguistic rules. Neither the use of "the" in this case or the usage without "the" have any primary claim to be considered correct. Similar things appear in other parts of the country: here in the Seattle area, for example, there are two ways of mentioning the large body of water that separates Seattle from the Olympic peninsula: "Puget Sound" and "the Puget Sound". I hear the latter mostly from radio news yutzes, which may be due to their usually not being native to the area, but there is no hard and fast motivation that would allow me to declare their version incorrect. What I think really underlies these differences is a general conception of generic vs. particular understandings of a term or name, which really outruns any primitive notions about what's incorrect or stupid-sounding or what have you.

Posted by: Michael on July 29, 2008 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, all language is ad hoc when you examine it.

In Ontario they use "the" -- the 401, the QEW. Since QEW stands for Queen Elizabeth's Way, the use of "the" is even stranger.

In Chattanooga, Highway 58 is called "58 Highway." No idea why. I don't think any other highways in the city are reversed that way.

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Posted by: gdoy fjstgxcq on August 7, 2008 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

A few people have mentioned that Ontarians use 'the 401', 'the QEW' etc. For some reason this is only used for 3-digit highways. Routes with 1 or 2 digits do not in my experience ever have the definite article attached. I grew up beside Hwy 35 and Hwy 7 and they never had a 'the'.

Posted by: gerard on September 22, 2008 at 11:20 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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