Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm not certain that there is an answer to this one:

Americans refer to our teams as The

Example: The New York Yankees

The British in my experience do not.

Example: Manchester United

I know that occasionally the British will throw in a the, such as The Arsenal, but I believe this is a nod to the actual Woolwich Arsenal.

We also tend to pluralize our teams, where I don't believe the British do this typically. (Not certain on that one . . . A bit of help from across the pond would be appreciated.)

Could the pluralization be compelling the usage of The?

Of note, the only time The gets truncated from an American team name is when it is used as an adjective. e.g. Legendary New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera retired this past season.

share|improve this question
10  
I'm just wondering: Is the title meant to be ironic? :-) –  cardinal Feb 27 at 11:39
1  
@cardinal In what sense? The usage of Americans and the British being the converse of the question? Happy accident. –  David M Feb 27 at 14:17
2  
"The british" ha –  f00644 Feb 27 at 16:13
    
@f00644 I'm not sure I get that. We Americans always refer to people from England as the British or the English. –  David M Feb 27 at 16:21
    
@DavidM, it was a sort of pun as the question talks about why the use of "The" and then refers to the british as "The british"... get it!? –  f00644 Feb 27 at 16:34

8 Answers 8

up vote 40 down vote accepted

As David M suggests it is due to pluralization.

Americans tend to name their teams in reference to the collection of players on the team as a group. "The Yankees" or "The Red Sox" references the collection of players and managers who make up the team. A player is a Yankee, or a Red Sox, and the collection of players are "The Yankees".

European football team names tend to reference the club as a single entity. "Arsenal" is the name of the football club, the club is considered a single thing that exists independently to the collection of players, staff, etc.

But people will often refer to "the gunners", in reference to the current Arsenal players of the team when they want to talk about the collection of players.

share|improve this answer
3  
Yes that is common, it is because the name of the team is not referring to a single agent of action, but rather the collective actions of the team. So when you say the team did something it references the collective action of the members, such as Arsenal are through to the last round of the Champions League. It is similar how you say "Aerosmith are cancelling their next album" rather than "Aerosmith is cancelling their next album". –  Cormac Mulhall Feb 26 at 13:38
4  
Actually thinking about it the usage is very similar to bands. "The Beatles" vs "Blink 182" etc. –  Cormac Mulhall Feb 26 at 13:54
1  
I think this is a specific instance of how British and American English differ on referring any collective, such as a corporation or government. –  Wayne Feb 26 at 15:43
4  
Wouldn't a Red Sox player be a Red Sock? –  terdon Feb 26 at 19:44
3  
Even a single player has two sox, one per foot –  Oldcat Feb 27 at 1:03

The difference is cause by the fact that the two examples that you gave are not comparable . . . the American team that you mentioned includes the team nickname and the British does not, and that is what causes the difference in the use of "The".

An accurate comparison would be:

US: The New York Yankees
UK: The Manchester United Red Devils

. . . or . . .

US: New York
UK: Manchester United

Each country uses the same format when referring to a team the same way, but it may be that, in the UK, it is more common to refer to a team by their city/club name than by their nickname. In the States, it is relatively equal, but, in a number of cases where one city has two teams in the same league (e.g., the New York Yankees/the New York Mets, the New York Giants/the New York Jets, the Chicago White Sox/the Chicago Cubs), you need to include the team nickname to clarify which team you are talking about.

share|improve this answer
1  
The team name in America is not a mascot. In fact, the mascot can be quite a different matter all together. The mascot of the New York Mets, for example, is Mr. Met. The Philadelphia Phillies' mascot is the Philly Fanatic, etc. –  David M Feb 27 at 2:37
    
@DavidM I'm not sure "mascot" is the right word for the British example either. If this were edited to use a different word it would be a very good answer though. –  starsplusplus Feb 27 at 13:25
    
Good catch . . . I believe "nickname" is the official term. Updated my answer. –  talemyn Feb 27 at 14:58
    
This is the right answer. It's not pluralization; it's not whether or not "club" is implied at the end of the name. It is simply that we say "the" before the nickname noun. When we skip the nickname, we remove "the." We say "Green Bay scored a touchdown," or "The Packers scored a touchdown," but never "The Green Bay scored." –  Ben Miller Feb 27 at 15:53

I think a big difference is: all of the English football team names implicitly or explicitly end with "Football Club." That is, the full name of "Manchester United" is actually "Manchester United Football Club" (sometimes "Manchester United F.C.").

There is no equivalent for American team names. "The Cincinnati Reds" are not "The Cincinnati Reds Baseball Club". It's just "The Cincinnati Reds".

If there is ever a need to disambiguate Liverpool (the place) from Liverpool (the team), you could say "Liverpool football club". If there were ever a need to verbally disambiguate between giant people living in San Francisco, and San Francisco Giants (a baseball team), we would tack on "The" - "The San Francisco Giants." If you needed extra disambiguation, you might tack on "... the baseball team", but it wouldn't really be a part of the team's name.

For the curious, here's a list of some American Baseball team names along with a list of some UK Football Club team names:

The New York Yankees, The Philadelphia Phillies, The Boston Red Sox, The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, The Chicago White Sox, The Chicago Cubs, The New York Mets, The San Francisco Giants, The Minnesota Twins, The Detroit Tigers, The St. Louis Cardinals, The Los Angeles Dodgers, The Texas Rangers, The Colorado Rockies, The Atlanta Braves, The Seattle Mariners, The Milwaukee Brewers, The Baltimore Orioles, The Cincinnati Reds, The Houston Astros, The Oakland Athletics, The Washington Nationals, The Toronto Blue Jays, The Miami Marlins, The Arizona Diamondbacks, The Cleveland Indians, The San Diego Padres, The Pittsburgh Pirates, The Tampa Bay Rays, The Kansas City Royals

Arsenal (the Gunners), Aston Villa (The Villa), Chelsea (The Blues, Pensioners?), Everton (The Toffees), Fulham (The Cottagers), Liverpool (The Reds?), Manchester City (also The Blues), Manchester United (the Red Devils), Newcastle United (the Magpies), Norwich City (the Canaries), Queens Park Rangers, Reading (the Royals), Sunderland (the Black Cats), Tottenham Hotspur (the Spurs), West Ham United (the Hammers), Wigan Athletic, Birmingham City, Blackpool (the Seasiders), Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Brighton and Hove Albion (the Seagulls), Bristol City, Burnley, Cardiff City (the Red dragons, used to be the Bluebirds), Charlton Athletic, Coventry City (the Sky Blues), Crystal Palace (the Eagles, used to be the Glaziers), Derby County (the Rams), Huddersfield Town, Hull City (the Tigers), Ipswich Town (the Tractor Boys) , Leeds United, Leicester City (the Foxes), Middlesbrough, Millwall, Nottingham Forest, Peterborough United (the Posh), Sheffield Wednesday (the Owls), Watford (the Hornets), Wolverhampton Wanderers (the Wolves).

And a bit of citation from "The IT Crowd": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWJIQm9qH-w

share|improve this answer
    
Even if it ended in Baseball Team, it would be hard to truncate The from an American team name. The only time you do so is as an adjective. For example, you would say: Legendary New York Yankees Pitcher Mariano Rivera retired this past season. He played for the Yankees, wearing the number 42 (the last player in baseball allowed to wear that retired number). –  David M Feb 26 at 0:43
    
Er... The Arsenal, surely? And then there are the nicknames, The Blades, The Seagulls..., which are arguably very similar to American team names. –  Andrew Leach Feb 26 at 1:03
    
Of the list of non-article using British teams, even I can name the Gunners, the Villa, the Pensioners and the Blues, before I get stuck on Fulham FC and would have to look it up. I'm sure someone who knows anything about football could give a similar name for the whole list. –  Jon Hanna Feb 26 at 1:27
    
@Jon: Cottagers? –  PatrickT Feb 26 at 3:35
2  
Many nicknames relate to towns' occupations.'Blades' refers to Sheffield's having been the centre of world cutlery. Some have changed, either because the name has become offensive or a joke. Northampton, with its traditional shoe industry were known as 'the Cobblers', until a) the shoe industry relocated to the Far East and b) 'cobblers' took on a more anatomical reference. Reading, once the home of Huntley & Palmers, were the 'Biscuit Men'. But after decades of headlines about Reading 'crumbling in the second-half', or 'Canaries pecking at the crumbs', they changed to 'The Reading Royals'. –  WS2 Feb 26 at 8:17

American English focuses on formal agreement of nouns and verbs, whereas British English considers notional agreement, i.e., the meaning more than the grammar. Americans would say, "our government is letting the troops down." Brits would say, "our government are letting the troops down." Brits treat collective nouns differently, most noticeably with sports teams. That's why the exclamation, "Arsenal are on fire!" makes total sense to the British. Rather than naming each player followed with "are on fire," they simply use the team name with no article to imply the collection of individuals. American English misses this sense by treating collective nouns as strictly singular, e.g., "Norway is winning the competition." British English uses the notional form: "Norway are winning the competition."

share|improve this answer
    
This is an excellent point! –  David M Feb 27 at 2:33
    
Good observation. As to the OP's question of why? Habit? –  user294382 Feb 27 at 3:08
    
As an Australian I found "Our government are letting..." to be an interesting example. Normally Australian English is more like British English than American English, but I would say "Our government is letting...". Using "are" sounds wrong to me in that context. –  nnnnnn Feb 27 at 12:00
    
Sounds wrong to me as well, @nnnnnn, and I'm British :P You do hear it with team names though. –  starsplusplus Feb 27 at 13:24

It's not just with sports teams, is it?

British might say, "I went to hospital". Americans would say "I went to the hospital".

American English would not have received any of the language "reforms" that occurred after the American Revolution. If you want to track this down, I'd look at those reforms to see if it touches upon this language aspect. Otherwise it's probably a drift in dialect, but even then it could be tracked down to some period.

share|improve this answer

Often, with football teams, where the team nickname is used the definite article is included. E.g. Tim Howard (the USA national goalkeeper) plays for the Toffees (Everton).

The Canaries (Norwich) are currently placed above the Potters (Stoke), the Baggies (West Bromwich Albion), the Eagles (Crystal Palace),the Black Cats (Sunderland) and the Red Dragons (Cardiff).

The Gunners(Arsenal) are second in the table to the Pensioners (Chelsea). The Magpies (Newcastle) have a slight edge on the Saints (Southampton).

share|improve this answer
4  
The US does it similarly - if using the team nickname it is 'The Yankees' but if just using the city name it is "New York beat Boston". –  Oldcat Feb 26 at 0:19
    
@oldcat Yet, if using the city name with the team name, we go back to The New York Yankees. –  David M Feb 26 at 0:22
3  
Yes, because the city is just an adjective and can be ignored and we are essentially using the nickname. –  Oldcat Feb 26 at 0:27
1  
Is the nickname for Chelsea the Pensioners so called because old women tend to dye their hair the same blue as the football (soccer) team shirt? BTW I didn't know there were so many monikers for British football teams, thank you for the marvellous edit in Clark's answer. Very generous on your part. –  Mari-Lou A Feb 26 at 8:41
3  
@Mari-LouA No. Chelsea is the home of the 'Royal Hospital'. It is not a hospital in the modern sense but a retirement home for old soldiers. EX soldiers, sailors and airmen who are aged, and perhaps widowed, can go and live there. If you have ever seen an old and stately-looking gentleman in the Kings Road wearing a long red cloak, he is a 'Chelsea Pensioner' and resident of the Royal Hospital. I am not sure Chelsea FC like being called 'the Pensioners' - in their case, it is a nickname other teams' fans apply! en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Hospital_Chelsea –  WS2 Feb 26 at 9:12

I'm not certain there's an answer either, but here's a counter-argument: notable teams on either side of the pond have different names that differ in whether they merit a 'the'.

Regarding the examples that you chose:
- Manchester is a place, 'yankee' is a noun. Proper-noun place names usually are not prepended with a 'the' ("going up to Boston this weekend"), where regular nouns often are ("the beach"/"the postman"). For reference, a brief trip to Wikipedia shows some football team names having a definitive article ("The New Saints"), but it seems like a lot of those teams are named after locations, thus not needing one.

Regarding pluralization:

  • The Miami Heat
  • The Utah Jazz (what is up with that name anyway? music <=> sports?)

College teams are also referred to by school name (and thus by location name) often:

  • San Diego State beat out Utah State the other day.

All of this to say…what trend are we talking about? Maybe you could argue for a trend in the USA for professional teams being named after mascots (or something of that nature), where many teams in the UK are named for places. I'd be curious to hear other thoughts about this.

A final point: musical ensembles (admittedly not the subject of your question) sort of buck any trend you could come up with anyway, at least when it comes to putting names to groups of people who do one thing together.

share|improve this answer
4  
The Utah Jazz were originally the New Orleans Jazz. The name made a lot more sense back then. –  David M Feb 25 at 22:26
1  
But see my comment on Abernasty's answer. This is not just a matter of saying "Green Bay beat Tampa Bay" instead of "The Packers beat the Buccaneers," as most sports fans do. Incidentally, don't confuse mascots and team names; it is the Cornell Big Red not the Cornell Bears (or the Cornell Touchdowns); the Yale Bulldogs, not the Yale Handsome Dans; and the Philadelphia Phillies, not the Philly Phanatics. –  choster Feb 25 at 22:43
    
Heat and Jazz are sort of uncountable. Sure, you can speak of heats, but that is a different connotation (stages in a tournament or race). But, you'd never see jazzes (except as a verb). –  David M Feb 26 at 1:21

I think as you indicate in your examples, there's a disparity in how we name our teams on either side of the pond.

In America, most teams are not a singular collective noun such as United or Arsenal, as much as they tend to be named for a multiple of a single noun, in such a way as using the definite article differentiates them from others, e.g. bears will maul you, but the Bears will tackle you.

I'd argue it's less about how we refer to them, but more on how we name them, though there are I think a few exceptions in American sports.

share|improve this answer
    
To be honest, I'm having trouble coming up with any professional teams. I think a few University teams would be exceptions. Ole Miss, etc. –  David M Feb 25 at 21:32
    
I'm afraid it is not so simple. Look up any article in a British newspaper about Wolverampton and they are invariable referred to as Wolves, not the Wolves, as in At Friday's match, Wolves overcame an early deficit. Queens Park Rangers may have the nickname "the R's," but again in writing it is simply Rangers, as in Rangers' hopes of promotion are fading. These are examples from body text, not from headlines. –  choster Feb 25 at 21:33
    
@choster well, then yea, if that's case that sets my argument on its ass, tell you what I saw a small write-up as a specific difference in article usage here, perhaps I should append and amend my answer? –  Abernasty Feb 25 at 21:36
    
Often, with football teams, where the team nickname is used the definite article is included. E.g. Tim Howard plays for the Toffees (Everton). The Canaries (Norwich) are currently placed above the Potters (Stoke), the Baggies (West Bromwich Albion), the Eagles (Crystal Palace),the Black Cats (Sunderland) and the Red Dragons (Cardiff). The Gunners(Arsenal) are second in the table to the Pensioners (Chelsea). –  WS2 Feb 25 at 23:55
    
@choster Yes, that is true of Wolves, also of Spurs. That is because those are shortened forms of their names. But other than in newspaper headlines, which say things like 'Gunners on Top', team nicknames would be preceded with an article. Norwich would not be referred to simply as 'Canaries', it would be 'The Canaries are top of the league'. –  WS2 Feb 26 at 21:45

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.