The Pathos and Humor of the Definite Article

— Within the narrow bounds which inclose child life there is little choice of nomenclature, for of objects of the same kind but a single sample is presented. For instance, to the boy of twelve years there is but one minister, — the one who officiated at his baptism, and who in due time will preside at his marriage, at his burial, or such other scenes as shall require the sacerdotal presence. In all the broad land there is for him but one doctor, — the one who shakes out the powder that tastes so bitter, the one who vaccinates and scarifies and does manifold cruel things that good may come. Here no creed, no ’pathy, is involved, — nothing but the designation the, which is equivalent to saying our parson, our doctor. Within the charmed circle of the household the same designation prevails, adapted to the humblest members thereof, being applied to the cat, the dog, the horse, as well as to the “man” (referring, of course, to the stubby foreigner who presides over stables and gardens). It is only in the household’s inner circle, the sanctum sanctorum, that a Stronger word is required, — our father, our mother, our governess ; in short, the proprietary word is made to refer to all who rule us by affection. Once without that inner circle, and the definite article is used, to refer to “ the President of the United States and all others in authority,” and is fraught with an indefinable fragrance of fond possession. Any one who has been a the to childhood will always thereafter be recalled as part of that blessed institution of home ; and years thence, away in foreign lands, our eyelids will quiver, and perhaps our lips writhe emotionally, at the thought of any person who once wore this childish prefix, be he what the Indians call the “ Great Father,” or simply the village schoolmaster trudging home in the tired twilight.

Another prefix, a family relative of the, is quite as significant, though in a somewhat less agreeable way ; it is the word that. Here the usage ascends from childhood to mature womanhood. Gracious and tender beings, who are utterly incapable of “strong expressions,” do not hesitate to denounce the object of their antipathy as that. This, like many other feminine epithets, doth indeed cover a multitude of sins half suggested ; and if history could be written by the aid of a mildly echoing phonograph attached to the voice cf some good woman, we would find the obnoxious characters in the world’s continued story comprehensively described and analyzed as “ that Judas Iscariot,” “ that Nero,” “that Louis XI.,” to say nothing of “ that Benedict Arnold. ” Much that is deliciously indefinite and incomprehensibly comprehensive in woman’s dear phrases and epithets is simply the terse verbiage of childhood grown to maturer form. That, may be regarded as little The, who has attained to the years of womanhood and of charming coquetry.

It may be added that the definite article does not limit its service to sentimental or to æsthetic purposes. The bold advertiser sees in its distinctive brevity his opportunity ; many specialists of trade and the professions, too, — not omitting the learned professions, — so far from disdaining the pungent conjecture aroused by this brief verbal character, have sent it upon its illuminating way with a compacted emphasis that no other part of speech can be made to sustain. Therefore, as we run we may read such legends as the following, to this effect : Sniggin’s is “the tonic remedy of the hour,” and will “ remove that tired feeling.”