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[Name] [No Comma] the [Category of Thing]

Rocky the Cock-a-Tzu

Rocky the Cock-a-Tzu

 

When the satirist John Oliver returned to his HBO show from hiatus on February 12, he said the happenings of the world had left him kind of depressed. The Chicago Tribune reported:

It’s gotten so bad, Oliver said, that when his phone buzzed with a news alert recently, he looked down and was relieved: “Oh, thank God, it’s just that Mary Tyler Moore is dead,” he recalled thinking.

He spoke of being jealous of Eddie, the dog from Frasier, because of his state of blissful ignorance: “He’s a dog, he’s fictional, and he’s almost certainly dead.”

I know the feeling. In this troubling time, I’ve been getting solace from my own dog, Rocky — who, in a shocker, was just revealed by a DNA test to be half cocker spaniel, half Shih Tzu. (When we got him 10 years ago, the people at the pound said he was primarily Dandie Dinmont terrier.) And I’ve gotten into the habit of following on Instagram some of the thousands of dogs whose comings and goings are documented there in minute detail — including Olive Oil the Cavalier, Chloe the Mini Frenchie, Samson the Goldendoodle, Asher the Maltese, Doug the Pug, Scooby the Corgi, Chewie the Chi, and Underpants the Dog.

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Do you notice a trend in these canines’ handles? They’re all a single name (two in Olive Oil’s case), followed by the, followed by either the name of their breed or the word dog. This is nothing new in the human world, of course. Think of Pliny the Elder, Alexander the Great,  John the Baptist, William the Conqueror, Robert the Strong, and Richard the Lion-Hearted. There’s even an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary for the the in the construction:

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However, those examples are all pretty old, and the convention appears to have been moribund for a century or five. It reappeared in the mid- and late-20th century with such examples as Stan the Man (Musial), Mack the Knife, Joe the Bartender, Mott the Hoople (does anyone know what a hoople is?), and Krusty the Clown. Certainly, the comedian Cedric the Entertainer, who began his career in the late 1980s, is important in the current revival. But I would say the seminal figure is the rapper Tyler, the Creator, whose first mixtape came out in 2009. (The punctuation in Tyler’s handle raises somewhat vexing questions about restrictive versus nonrestrictive elements. But since his comma is anomalous, I will not address those questions here.)  Standing on Tyler’s shoulders is Chance [no comma] the Rapper, who recently won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist.

As for the provenance of the Instagram-dog-name-trope, Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, who debuted on Late Night With Conan O’Brien in 1997, may have had something to do with it, but further research is called for. An early foray into that research prompts me to say that the American Kennel Club’s method of referring to dogs is kind of odd. It eschews the word named — as well as the British called – and uses the naming convention seen in this list of some group winners at the recent Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show:

Terrier: GCHS Ch. Taliesin Twice As Nice, a Norwich Terrier known as “Tanner,” owned by Lisa and John Sons and Joan Eckert.

Toy: GCHB Ch. Pequest Pickwick, a Pekingese known as “Chuckie,” owned by David Fitzpatrick.

Non-Sporting: GCHB Ch. Danfour Avalon As If, a Miniature Poodle known as “Aftin,” owned by Daniel Chavez, James Moses and Janet Moses.

Herding: GCh. Ch. Lockenhaus’ Rumor Has It V Kenlyn, a German Shepherd Dog known as “Rumor,” owned by Deborah Stern, Pamela Buckles, Patti Dukeman, Pam McElheney and Kent Boyles.

“Known as” has a definite outlaw vibe, while “owned” casts the dog as chattel — going against the recent trend that has replaced “master” with “human companion.” Meanwhile, the quotation marks around the names are a bit stilted. And can I just say, what’s up with “German Shepherd Dog”?

Speaking of Rumor, he provides evidence that, wherever, whenever, and however it started, the “[Name] the [Kind of Dog]” trend has, over the past year, reached and gone beyond the tipping point. Here is the New York Times headline for last year’s Westminster show:

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And here’s this year’s headline:

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