General Question

robmandu's avatar

Why makes highways in California so effin' special?

Asked by robmandu (21210 points ) November 24th, 2008

They’re all referred to with the definite article THE.

Like the 405 or the 101… they’re almost universally preceded by THE by Californians. And when I’m there, I find myself doing it, too.

But then, elsewhere in the country, no one seems to refer to I-40 as “the 40” even though it too runs across California. Matter of fact, the California transplants I know don’t use THE when referring to highways in other states either.

Or maybe it’s a regional thing in Cali? Do folks in San Francisco, for example, use a definite article when referring to a highway?

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31 Answers

omfgTALIjustIMDu's avatar

They’re purdy.

dynamicduo's avatar

Here in Canada all parts of the Trans-Canada Highway are referred to with a “the”. The 416, the 401. In fact the stretch that goes through downtown Ottawa (and a bit of another highway) is called The Queensway, and one area inside there is called “the split” though I’ll be honest in that I have no idea where exactly the split is as there are two splits, both that gum up equally. Interestingly enough no one would ever refer to a named road as “The Roadname”, and the numbers ARE essentially the names of the highway portions, but I’ve never heard anyone say “take 417 to Kingston”. Not sure about California exactly but I wanted to let you know we see the same thing up here in Canada, and now that I’m actually thinking about it, it’s a bit perplexing…

jessturtle23's avatar

I noticed this when I visited southern California. I didn’t get it either.

PupnTaco's avatar

It’s just one of those regional things. Some are weirder.

We don’t say “Highway 74” or “Route 101” – it’s “the 74” or “the 101.”

nina's avatar

I will just take a general stab at this thorny linguistic mystery. Maybe when we say I-40, the ‘I’ already identifies the entity as ‘Interstate’. The definite article(‘the’) in ‘the 405’ distinguishes this expression from any other use of the numeral 405. Does this help?

susanc's avatar

I don’t think we do that up here in Washington. We say, “Take 101 north and don’t get on
8 – that will take you to Aberdeen”.
Back east, we used the number alone unless the road had a name. For example, the Long Island Expressway was always referred to as “the goddamned Expressway”.

My husband and his male relatives back east always had long discussions, which they seemed to enjoy very much, involving the routing between points on the map. They never talked about landmarks, landscape, the quality of the weather, or even traffic; they only talked about the numbers of the road. “Did you take 9 or 17? 17? Why? Oh, you don’t know about the new 9? Oh, the new 9 is great. You should take the new 9 on the way back.”

simone54's avatar

They are great, the only problem is that is they’re filled with California who don’t know how to drive.

augustlan's avatar

Marylander here. We say only the numbers in most cases, usually followed by a direction (40 East), sometimes preceded by ‘Route’ or ‘I’. Except when referring to I-495 as ‘the Beltway’.

wundayatta's avatar

Roads used to have names: the Mass Pike, the Henry Hudson parkway, etc etc. Probably, as we moved over to numbering our roads, instead of naming them, this habit persisted, particularly with very well-known roads.

When you give directions, you might say “take Hwy 101 to San Francisco.” But if you’re out for a Sunday drive, you might say, “We took a ride on the 101.” In the first case the road is a tool to get somewhere else, but in the second, it’s a destination on it’s own.

Fieryspoon's avatar

It’s a SoCal thing.

AstroChuck's avatar

I was going to say that too. I’m in NorCal and we just refer to I-5 as I-5 or 5 and Highway 101 is Highway 101 or just 101.

kevbo's avatar

SoCal-ers probably use this convention because there are so many highways and freeways to choose from and it’s more efficient to say “the #” rather than remembering to distinguish between “I-#” and “Hwy #,” etc. Other metro areas with fewer choices/names don’t need that kind of shorthand.

Likeradar's avatar

@Fieryspoon and Astrochuck- I’m from the Bay Area and I’ve always heard “the 101.” But only for 101. For 36 or whatever, it’s just 36.

andrew's avatar

For whatever reason it began (maybe because they were the first highways in America?), “the 101” really just refers to “that stretch of highway in southern california”. I still refer to the highways up in SF at 280, 680 (though sometimes I’ll slip up), but I never refer to the highways in Chicago as “The 90”.

“The 101” is just its name.

nikipedia's avatar

My hypothesis is that it has to do with native Spanish speakers. I think (although I have no basis whatsoever for this) that in Spanish an article might be required. So native Spanish speakers in So Cal started the “The XYZ” nomenclature and it caught on and traveled north.

Any bilingual Flutherers out there who can weigh in?

Also: why no article before BART? The Metro, the subway, the T, the tube, but just BART?

Darwin's avatar

BART is an acronym, Bay Area Rapid (or Regional – I never can remember) Transit, so we just started calling it by its initials as a proper name.

All your other examples are regular nouns and so get an article.

Darwin's avatar

I always thought that it started because there was one freeway at first (not highways in California, they are freeways) so you would go on “the freeway.” Then when there was more than one freeway, you would say “I took the 101 freeway” as opposed to another freeway. Then the word freeway was dropped, so it became “I took the 101.”

This all dates from the 1950’s when I lived out there, but I still remember the first time we moved back east and discovered they had turnpikes, highways, expressways, and parkways, but no freeways.

basp's avatar

Darwin
The R is for rapid.

bythebay's avatar

Agree with Augustian on the Maryland/East Coast thing. We just have 50, 40, somtimes Route is used. We dont even say “The” Metro, you just take Metro. Maybe we’re lazy speakers?

Darwin's avatar

@basp – when I last lived there BART was digging giant holes everywhere and hadn’t finished anything, so you can tell it’s been a while. Hence my faulty memory.

tinyfaery's avatar

I always thought it was because we used to call the freeways by their destinations, i.e. The San Diego Freeway or The Hollywood Freeway. These are definite articles. When all that changed we just stuck to The 405 or The 170.

blondie411's avatar

@susanc I almost peed myself about the reference to the LIE or the worlds longest parking lot. Seriously I cringe every single time someone takes it, there are better ways!!!

I think we are just becoming lazy speakers I know I refer to everything as “the and then the highway or parkway or expressway” Or maybe just everything in NY is just an alphabet soup of letters that most people do not even know what it stands for anymore.

Trustinglife's avatar

I live in the bay area. I refer to “The 5” and “The 101.” But I call other highways just “80,” “280,” “880,” etc.

I live in Marin county, where the 101 is pretty much the only way to get anywhere. It’s almost like the 101 is personal, almost intimate. Wow, that sounds crazy.

AstroChuck's avatar

But “the 5” doesn’t go through the Bay Area.

Trustinglife's avatar

I know that Chuck… but I use it frequently to go up to Oregon and down to LA.

Allie's avatar

I live in Davis (NorCal) and still call it the 101. I just call the other highways 5, 80, 113 – by their numbers only. I call the infamous Highway 1 “Highway 1” or “California 1” though.

SuperMouse's avatar

So Cal girl checking in here! I tend to call freeways and interstates “The (Insert Freeway Name Here). I must admit that here in The Cornfield people tend to look at me sideways when I mention The 6 of The 80. The only exception to this rule is Pacific Coast Highway which I mainly refer to as PCH.

asmonet's avatar

@Pup: It’s funny you brought that map up, when I lived in Florida as a kid I referred to all soda’s as Cokes I moved to Virginia at thirteen and call it soda. I think around 10–11 I started to switch over, but I’d completely forgotten, weird.

simone54's avatar

Soo okay… What if actually want a Coke-a-cola?

asmonet's avatar

It’s just a ‘regular’.

PupnTaco's avatar

Or a “coke cola.”

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