‘How do you stand on the the?’ asked my husband. ‘The the?’ ‘Yes, the the.’ We could have gone on all morning, but the phone went, a so-called opinion survey. By the time I had sent them (or him) away with a flea in his ear, my husband had drifted off.
The the in question was the one before Albany, the Regency sets of rooms off Piccadilly that the rich, impatient Alan Clark characterised as possessing ‘cold and miserable squalor’. Most people call it ‘the Albany’, despite snobby objections. If it had retained the name Albany House, there would have been no problem. Dickens referred to it as ‘Albany’, but that was in Our Mutual Friend, a novel with a solecism for a title. ‘The Premises,’ said the articles of agreement, in 1804, ‘shall be called Albany’. That stopped no one. But the real objection, suggests the Survey of London, came in the 1890s (according to Cyril Ray, the club-man, in a letter to the Guardian in 1956) from owners of rooms, such as the influential William Stone, who feared it sounded like a public house without the the.The definite article is definitely troublesome. What of MCC? Again the snobs eschew the article. Yet a plaque in Dorset Square records the founding there in 1787 of ‘the MCC’. Or Guildhall? Its website is resolute in rejecting the article; the vox of the populi who compile Wikipedia are just as resolute in embracing it.
The Strand (as we all call it) has ‘Strand’ on the street sign. The King’s Road has Kings Road, with no apostrophe (another tangle, which we have probed gingerly before, from King’s Cross to Earls Court).
There used to be a weakness for attaching the to the names of some countries (the Lebanon, the Sudan). The Gambia, however, is often curtailed to Gambia. I suppose its article came from the river after which it is named. That country exemplifies the difficulty too of capitalising a definite article that is not italicised. (The Spectator rejoices in its article, except when it chooses not to.) Some, as Jennifer’s Diary used to, capitalise The Queen out of respect. I can’t see that it adds much majesty, even in a jubilee year.