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Here's the scene. Two teens are sitting at a bank of a river and cutting some cretaceous fruits for moonshine.

The guy: What is this? (meaning the thing he's cutting the fruits with)
The girl: It's the barb from slasher tail.

slasher is a nickname for a kind of dinosaur.

Why does she say the barb not a barb?Clearly from the conversation, it's never been mentioned before, no shared knowledge, no implication, nothing. She uses the. Why?

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2 Answers 2

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It should be a barb

If there is only ONE barb on a slasher's tail the barb would be correct. Since there seem to be more, then it could be a misprint in the dialogue or the actor said her line wrong.

Male Slashers have sharp barbs on the end of their tails which can slice open human flesh

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    Ohh! in this case it should be a barb.
    – Dunno
    Nov 13, 2013 at 12:17
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I'm going to have to disagree with the currently accepted answer. I've heard this phrasing fairly often for things that are not unique. eg: An apple seed might be identified as "the seed from an apple", even though (seeded) apples have lots of seeds.

Logically I could justify this because at that moment in the conversation, there's only one thing being discussed. It isn't really a matter of logic though, but rather of documenting common usage. This is in fact a common way this concept is phrased "in the wild".

For reference, the native dialects I'm in common contact with where I live are Midland, South Midland, and AAVE. If I had to scratch my memory for where I've heard it the most, I'd say probably South Midland. The dialect typically used in US TV shows is very close to Midland (although writers and actors may be native to another dialect, so some of that may creep in, and sometimes other accents are purposely used as cultural markers).

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  • as far as I can tell most native speakers can't even agree on what makes what unique and the use of 'the' even though something's never been mentioned before, no shared knowledge, no implication. I'm saying this afee asking a lot of questions on the topic across the net. I really do struggle with this. For the most part English grammar makes sense you just have to figure and remember exceptions. But the articles. Hell it's a mess.
    – Dunno
    Nov 14, 2013 at 8:56
  • @Dunno - There is no sense whatsoever to the articles. You just have to memorize them.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 14, 2013 at 13:25

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