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As I was reading some of the responses on Should I use “the wife” or “my wife”?, I agreed with many of the posters stating that using the wife as opposed to my wife was slightly less personal and contained a hint of disdain.

To me, the person utilizing the instead of my is distancing themselves from the object, for example:

The dog is humping the lawn chairs again.

Or, more in the case of wives, the use of the might be in reference to the wife's status in the relationship, with husbands comparing it to the warden, a figure to be feared. This case is definitely a bit derogatory, but I don't think there are any absolutes.

One answer says that using the wife takes the person out of it and objectifies the wife.

Since I think I would be rattling a wasp's nest by playing devil's advocate to that poster, I'll ask here instead...

Do you objectify or depersonalize your children if you refer to them as the kids, or is ARE the kids all right?

I'm of the opinion that this does nothing to diminish anyone's perception of the kids, real or imagined, but I'd like to hear what others think.

And I am sure there are plenty of questions about the effects of the on nouns, so we'll leave those where they are.

UPDATE:

As FumbleFingers put it in the comments below, no one will fight to their dying breath trying to prove that "this is a great question, or that it has (or even could have) a great answer." However, I do think I got what I desired, which was a bit of discussion on the topic.

Regarding my reluctance to stir up any wasp's nests, it looks like I did so anyway, if the stretch of comments is any indication of people's diverging views.

As such, I've given the tick to CandiedOrange due to the astute phrasing of "This smacks of political correctness." Creatively referencing the wife and lawn chairs from my post didn't hurt, either.

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  • Even saying "my wife" somewhat depersonalizes her, as compared to "Marge, my wife," on those occasions when you don't want to directly say "Marge."
    – lauir
    Jan 5, 2016 at 22:52
  • 1
    @human Not necessarily. If the audience does not know your wife's name, "My wife, Marge, is..." makes sense.
    – Kyle
    Jan 5, 2016 at 22:54
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    If I think back to when I had "kids", it seems to me there's a rather unexpected contradiction in the likely connotations of referencing wife, kids with either a possessive pronoun or the indefinite article. Suppose a friend suggested we go for a walk. As OP clearly realises, if he said Is the wife coming? that could easily be considered "offensive". But it seems to me Are the kids coming? is actually somewhat more "familiar, endearing" than Are your kids coming? Jan 5, 2016 at 23:18
  • Can you elaborate how this question is different from the one about 'wife' beyond swapping the two relations?
    – Mitch
    Jan 5, 2016 at 23:19
  • @Mitch: I was obviously composing my comment while you were posting yours. I think mine underscores the fact that there is a potential difference depending on whether it's wife or kids. Jan 5, 2016 at 23:21

2 Answers 2

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Does the definite article depersonalize?

It didn't depersonalize your lawn chairs.

Does the definite article objectify?

Take my wife. Please.

Is the kids all right?

Your kids are breaking our chairs again.

The connotation comes mostly from the rejected alternative choices. It certainly doesn't come from the definition. Which by the way is:

the

definite article

  1. (used, especially before a noun, with a specifying or particularizing effect, as opposed to the indefinite or generalizing force of the indefinite article a or an): the book you gave me; Come into the house.

  2. (used to mark a proper noun, natural phenomenon, ship, building, time, point of the compass, branch of endeavor, or field of study as something well-known or unique): the sun; the Alps; theQueen Elizabeth; the past; the West.

  3. (used with or as part of a title): the Duke of Wellington; the Reverend John Smith.

  4. (used to mark a noun as indicating the best-known, most approved, most important, most satisfying, etc.): the skiing center of the U.S.; If you're going to work hard, now is the time.

  5. (used to mark a noun as being used generically): The dog is a quadruped.

  6. (used in place of a possessive pronoun, to note a part of the body or a personal belonging): He won't be able to play football until the leg mends.

  7. (used before adjectives that are used substantively, to note an individual, a class or number of individuals, or an abstract idea): to visit the sick; from the sublime to the ridiculous.

reference.com

That said, this smacks of political correctness. Don't take it to seriously. The speaker's tone and context certainly overrides significance of the choice of artical.

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I would say the answer is wholly dependent on the audience. If, for example, you were speaking to your spouse, it is inappropriate to say,

My kids are upstairs.

But, if you are speaking to a co-worker, it is appropriate to say that.

So use the when speaking to family and my when speaking to anyone else. The reason not to use my when speaking with one's family is because that family member has a relationship with your child as well, and knows the kids are yours. So, saying, "My kids are upstairs" to the grandparents of the kids, for example, comes across as overly possessive or even self-centered.

Using the when speaking to a friend, in my humble opinion, does distance yourself from your children, and hints at an impersonal relationship with your children.

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    You could use "Our kids are upstairs," right?
    – AAM111
    Jan 5, 2016 at 23:29
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    If you are speaking with your spouse, yes.
    – Kyle
    Jan 5, 2016 at 23:32

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