Here's the 411 on 'the 405'

Rob Kyff on

Take [the] Five: Have you ever wondered why Southern Californians always insert "the" before the number of an interstate highway, e.g., "Take the 5 to the 134"?

Nathan Masters, the producer and host of the public TV series "Lost LA" recently explored the origins of this La-La Land-ism on the website of KCET.

He explains that, by the time the national interstate highway system began in 1956, Los Angeles had already built several highways, which were given local names, e.g., "the Cahuenga Pass Freeway," "the San Bernardino Freeway."

This poly'the'ism was slyly captured by Joan Didion in her 1970 novel "Play It As It Lays" when she described a character driving "the San Diego to the Harbor, the Harbor up to the Hollywood, the Hollywood to the Golden State."

When these thoroughfares were incorporated into the new Interstate Highway System and given numbers during the 1960s, Angelenos tended to use BOTH the name and the number, e.g., "The San Diego, 405." But eventually they started dropping the name while retaining the "the" to produce "the 405."

--Speak of "the" Devil: Did you Easterners think I was going to let you off the hook? While "The New York State Thruway" or "The Massachusetts Turnpike" did not, thankfully, morph into "the 87" or "the 90," the article "the" does sometimes precede the names of Northeastern corporations.

The Hartford-based insurance company officially named "Aetna Inc.," for instance, is widely known as "The Aetna," and its crosstown competitors, technically named "The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc.," and "The Travelers Companies, Inc." are commonly dubbed "The Hartford" and "The Travelers," respectively.

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Likewise, many people in New York City refer to their electric company as "the Con Edison" and people in the Midwest and South speak of going to "the Target" or "the Seven Eleven."

--Well Wishers: The customary response to parting pleasantries such as "Have a nice day" and "Have a good weekend" is likely to be "You too." But Henry McNulty of Cheshire has noticed that more and more young people are replying with "You as well."

I've noticed this "as well" as well. To my mind, the phrase conveys a warm tone of elegant courtesy. At a time when many older adults grate their teeth over alleged verbal atrocities committed by millennials, it's nice to encounter this touch of graciousness in their speech.

Have a great week, old-timers. And you millennials, as well.


Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Conn., invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via e-mail to or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Copyright 2018 Creators Syndicate Inc.


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