I was all ears when this story came on public radio’s Marketplace on Friday (and not just because the correspondent has killer vocal fry). Rather, the piece confirmed to me that, when it comes to formal high-school dances in the spring, the definite article is definitely not the bomb.
Back when Archie Andrews was in the first blush of youth and starting to roam the halls of Riverdale High School, his thought was always to escort Veronica to the prom. But over the years, the the has been jettisoned. That was certainly the case with my kids, when this odd institution came on their radar about 10 years ago.
At this point, among the actual participants, article-less prom appears to be universal. It’s certainly seen in the trend of public prom invitations, commonly in the form of a sign placed in an unusual or unexpected location, with the words “[Girl's name], will you go to prom with me?” Last year, a Connecticut youth got in trouble for putting his message on the side of the school. (He merely taped the letters to the wall, so it wasn’t an issue of defacement, but still.) It appears that the latest wrinkle in the trend is even more abbreviation, as in this clever, economical, and somewhat nutritious invite from a Michigan youngster:
As I pointed out last year at this URL, the prom deal fits in with a broader article-dropping trend, usually denoting a degree of familiarity. For example, insiders refer to (no the) CIA and Secret Service operatives, and TV writers to (no the) POTUS. My department chair talks about not the executive committee or even executive committee but to exec. Then, of course, there’s Ukraine, Sudan, and Congo, all of which lost their thes in recent decades.
The Marketplace piece (to return to where I started out) struck me as a possible milepost in the wider acceptance for no-article prom. As ubiquitous as it is among promgoers, my sense had been that it was still very far from taking hold officially. And certainly, the prom is still out there. I searched Google News for the phrase and got plenty of hits—every one of them from the publication itself or from a parent, such as the Kennebunk, Me., mom Sue Richardson, who was quoted in the local paper as saying, “I very much appreciate having the prom local.”
However, the Marketplace correspondent, (the admittedly youthful-sounding) Bridget Bodnar, consistently omitted the article, saying, for example, “Visa estimates the average family will spend over $1,000 on prom this year.” And Google News searches for “at prom” and “to prom” yield plenty of quotes from reporters and other adults, including this from an ABC story on the trend of not tanning for the event: “Bosse said her classmates at Maynard High School came to prom pale and proud.”
Not surprisingly, one holdout appears to be the Gray Lady herself, The New York Times. A search for prom at its site reveals not only that reporters and editors consistently use the the form, but that, in the Times‘s pages, teens sometimes do, too. A high-school senior with the wonderful name Autumn Chubbs, who contributes to the paper’s blog about college admissions, “The Choice,” was represented a few days ago as having written the following: “Now that I have enrolled at San Diego State, I am enjoying my time preparing for the prom and graduation. I can’t wait to go to the prom with all of my friends.”
Did a Times editor insert two thes in that sentence? I am willing to bet my Lingua Franca monthly salary against his or her weekly salary that the answer is yes.
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