When we want to say that something is inappropriate or an incorrect selection from several options, we often say that it is "the wrong [whatever]". For example:

Ten o'clock is the wrong time to have lunch.

I put on the wrong shirt this morning.

But this is surely incorrect logically, because the use of the word "the" implies uniqueness where there is none.

Ten o'clock is not uniquely the wrong time to have lunch; nine o'clock would also be wrong. So it's not the wrong time to have lunch, merely a wrong time to have lunch. And if I have a shirt that's not a good selection, then I may have several; yet even if I had several, I would still say that I put on the wrong shirt and not the more logically defensible a wrong shirt.

So why do we talk about wrong selections this way, using the definite article? How long have we been doing it? Is it something that arose from the history of the English language, or did it come to us from a precursor to English?

  • We use wrong because it is the right word to express something that isn't right for oneself. It's not wrong for everybody, just for the person who is making the statement.
    – Robusto
    Aug 3, 2020 at 12:44
  • @Robusto, you are focusing on the wrong word (uniquely wrong in this case).
    – Hammerite
    Aug 3, 2020 at 13:28
  • We use the in that case because the shirt or lunchtime or shoe is uniquely wrong in that particular case. Again, for the person making the statement.
    – Robusto
    Aug 3, 2020 at 13:35
  • You are mistaken.
    – Hammerite
    Aug 3, 2020 at 13:47
  • And quite apart from your rudeness, you apparently don't understand point of view. The speaker supposes there is a unique right time or shirt or hedgehog for a purpose or occasion, and so wishes to emphasize what is, from that point of view, precisely the diametric opposite of what is intended.
    – Robusto
    Aug 3, 2020 at 13:59


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