The other day I was chatting with a friend discussing directions to a restaurant we were planning on meeting up at later that evening. “Just take Interstate until the first exit in Moorhead…”
Now, if you read that sentence and you don’t see anything strange about it, I bet you are a native to this area. Was I confused about which interstate she was talking about? Nope, I knew you couldn’t take I-29 into Moorhead and the only other interstate option in the area is I-94. Did I not know what exit in Moorhead she was referencing? Nope… the first exit in Moorhead is pretty clear. You see, what my friend did was refer to it as “Interstate” instead of “the interstate”. While I try to embrace mostly everything about the culture of this area (mosquitoes and negative temperatures excluded) the omission of the word “the” in front of certain words really perplexes me.
This wasn’t the first time I had heard one of the major interstates in the area referred as “Interstate” before instead of THE interstate, at least not the first time in North Dakota. For whatever reason the word “the” has been removed when discussing these specific roads. You don’t hop on THE interstate and head towards Bismarck, you hop on Interstate. References to a road with a lack of direct article in front is not the only word I’ve noticed without a “the”. For example, instead of driving the tractor during the summer, or even “a” tractor, it becomes simply “driving tractor”.
When I’ve tried in the past to point this out to friends who omit the “the” or ask why they do it, they look at me like I’m crazy. Is there anything grammatically incorrect with it? Well, I’m no grammar queen but I don’t think so. Like many things in ND, leaving out the “the” is simply another quirky thing, like referring to sloppy Joe’s as barbecue, that an outsider like myself has noticed and thinks, “hmm… interesting.”
While I am now rather familiar with the lack of “the” in conversations, the occurrence still catches me off guard from time to time and never ceases to peak my curiosity. Whatever happened to the “the” anyway? Where did it go? Has the language in North Dakota evolved to a degree where direct articles such as the word “the” becomes unnecessary and time consuming? Did there ever used to be a “the” in front of these words? And most importantly, am I the only person who has noticed this? (Quite possibly).
The world may never know.