Do We Really Need to Shorten the Word 'The'?

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Do you ever find yourself impatiently typing out all three letters in the word the, over and over again? Or maybe you're just tired of and and its ampersand hogging all of the typographical shorthand. Well, surprisingly — shockingly, even — you are not the only one.

Australian restauranteur and the activist Paul Mathis has just introduced Ћ, a combination of a capital T and lowercase h. Pronounced th, the new symbol would stand in for the, elevating the word to the level of its haughty, &-flaunting cousin and. In addition to designing and promoting the symbol Mathis has introduced several new keyboard apps featuring Ћ, available in the Google Play store. (Apple denied them in the App Store.)


This may very well be the first time someone has decided to advocate on behalf of the. Linguist and language columnist Ben Zimmer told The Atlantic Wire that, while he could think of similar campaigns to popularize ‽ (aka the interrobang, that very unpopular combination of question mark and exclamation point) as well as marks to denote sarcasm, no one has ever tried to shorten the before. And probably for good reason. "I'm not sure that this is something that people are crying out for," Zimmer told us in a phone interview Friday. "People seem to be just fine using the word the."

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Mathis, and the $65,000 he invested into the development of his new symbol, would argue otherwise. Using the Ћ symbol will save you time, energy and, most appealingly, Twitter real estate. When you only get 140 characters, those extra two count. The is also the most commonly used word in the English language. Meanwhile and, possibly the most pretentious word in the English language, is only the fifth most common word after be, to, and of. Yet the has been neglected for centuries, apparently, and the ampersand has been around for centuries as a monument to the word's usefulness. As the Ћ promotional video below asks, "What has and ever done to deserve that?"

As the video makes clear, despite being present in over 80 percent of all written paragraphs, "The hasn't got a special symbol, the remains three letters long, and the has never been recognized for its impressive usage." The has long been the ugly stepchild of the articles-and-prepositions family; it might always be.

"The ampersand developed organically over centuries," Zimmer said. "It wasn't suddenly introduced one day." With the exclusion of tech-era symbols like @, the natural development of symbols increases their staying power. Even Mathis, the Ћ inventor, knows this. In an interview with Australia's The Age, he dates the origins of the ampersand back to over half a millennium ago:

The Benedictine monks developed the modern version of the ampersand in the Middle Ages, when they were hand-copying religious texts. I'm not putting myself in the same league, but who knows – maybe in 500 years' time people will be amazed that there was a time when we didn't use 'th'.

Ћ has some serious hurdles to overcome before becoming the next big thing in typography. Besides being unnecessary and ridiculous, the combination of T and h as a substitute for the only makes sense in the English language. As Zimmer notes, a large part of the ampersand's popularity is its universal appeal. Symbols such as @, %, and parentheses also have that "it factor" that lead to international appeal. Ћ may have to wait a while for its big break.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.