Apple’s pretentious war on the word “the” - Macenstein

Apple’s pretentious war on the word “the”

Why does Apple hate the word “the”?

Apple has a reputation for being a little on the arrogant or elitist side when it comes to the company image they project, and even as an Apple fanboy I will not argue that Apple has portrayed (and priced) its gear as something meant more for those who have “made it” than for the simple plebeian riff-raff that seeks out a fugly Sansa or Dell or what have you.

One reason for this holier than thou image might be that Apple, or their hoity toity Madison Ave. ad agency, have declared war on the word “the” when it comes to describing their products, and for some reason it REALLY bugs me. It causes all their MacBook, iPod and iPhone literature to have a pretentious, “talking in the 3rd person”-type of feeling that is very off-putting. Sort of like a stuck up tool of a guy named Rik who says things like “Hey, Rik’s hungry” or, more to the point, “Rik’s going to go Rik’s room and lie down in Rik’s bed and listen to iPod“.

Here are some examples of what I find to be the very bizarre way Apple refers to its products taken from Apple’s own website. I dare you to talk like this when referring to your Apple gear:

iPod nano
“Feel the curved, all-aluminum and glass design and you won’t want to put iPod nano down.”
How about
“…and you won’t want to put the iPod nano down.”

“Just give iPod nano a shake and it shuffles to a different song in your music library.”
How about
“Just give the iPod nano”, or “Just give your iPod nano”

iPod touch

“Groundbreaking technologies built into iPod touch…”
How about
“Groundbreaking technologies built into the iPod touch”

“Improved battery life means iPod touch provides up to 36 hours”.
How about
“Improved battery life means the iPod touch provides up to 36 hours”

“iPod touch now includes built-in Nike + iPod support.”
How about “The iPod touch now includes built-in Nike + iPod support.


“Rotate iPhone to see a photo in landscape.”
How about
“Rotate the iPhone to see a photo in landscape.” or “Rotate your iPhone to see a photo in landscape.”

“Email on iPhone looks and works just like email on your computer. ”
How about “Email on the iPhone looks and works just like email on your computer. ”

“3G technology gives iPhone fast access to the Internet and ”
How about
“3G technology gives the iPhone fast access to the Internet and ”


“Top-to-bottom integration also makes MacBook greener than other notebooks”

how about
“Top-to-bottom integration also makes the MacBook greener than other notebooks”

“The unibody also makes MacBook Pro more durable than ever.”
How about
“The unibody also makes the MacBook Pro more durable than ever.”

“Because MacBook Pro is environmentally innovative,”
How about
“Because the MacBook Pro is environmentally innovative,”

As big a fanboy as I am, and as nerdy as the Apple geeks I hang out with are, not ONE of them apparently refers to Apple products correctly, according to Apple. I have noticed Steve Jobs on stage say things like “simply plug iPod into your Mac…”, and he sounds stupid. I’m not saying this is anything new, but I AM saying it is getting old. Jobs began this bizarre way of referring to the iPod (excuse me, this bizarre way of referring to iPod) from the very beginning. It gives me douche chills every time I hear it it. Quite frankly, it sounds like something Jonathan Ive might have come up with.

So, no, sorry Apple. I won’t be buying into your bizarre marketing message here. It will be a cold day in hell before I say something like “I am going to the Apple store to look at iPod” (or should it be “I am going to Apple store to look at iPod”?). Please, show you are human, and bring back the “the”.

42 Responses to “Apple’s pretentious war on the word “the””
  1. This has been driving me crazy for ages! I am increasingly disliking Apple, but brcoming more enamoured of their products and the community that forms around them.

  2. Xeno says:

    Well the whole point behind removing the word ‘the’ when referring to Apple products is to ‘personolize them. IE when I stop referring to my iPhone like ‘when I use the iPhone to make a call…’ and instead say ‘when I use iPhone to make a call,…’ the phone is being treated in the sentence more like a friend or pet and less like an object. This is something that Apple wants you to think of when you think of Apple products; they are friends and not just products.

  3. Jonro says:

    This sounds like a question for Grammar Girl.

  4. Mr Clicky says:

    It’s funny but this Grammer Boy’s brain automatically sticks the ‘the’ back in, I had to re-read ‘first paragraph’ to get what you were talking about.

    Now as soon as we can get people to stop saying ‘impact’ when they mean ‘effect’ I’ll be a happy camper.

  5. Jim says:

    It’s rather like the British(?) way of addressing corporations like, “Today, Apple Computer introduce the new […]” as opposed to the (ahem, corrupt) American version, “Today, Apple Computer introduced their new […]”.

    The former, if I can remember how to phrase this correctly, refers to Apple Computer in the plural possessive, but I am not a linguist so I’m not sure of the proper words here.

    Whereas, in the U.S. at least, the latter refers to corporations as a singular entity, or a single “person” in Law as it treats corporations as individuals.

    It’s weird and it grates, though probably no more than our Canadian friends are annoyed by missing ‘u’s all over the place, eh? 😉

  6. Max says:

    Same here. As much as I love my Apple gear, I think you’d have to be crazy to love the way that Apple refers to all their products like that. Anyway, got to go, iPhone is calling me.

  7. Jarod says:

    I think Mr. Macenstein spends WAY too much time on a computer. Apple can do whatever the hell they want. Its THEIR company THEIR products. They don’t give a shit what you or I or anybody thinks. You don’t like their products, no one is holding a gun to your head; find something else. Annoyed by the word ‘the’…gimme a break. Is the news today THAT DEAD??? How about Microsoft is laying off almost half its employees. Now THATS something worthy to laugh about!

  8. odin says:

    When Odin looks at Apple’s site, Odin thinks iPhone is a sweet device and iPod Touch is pretty cool.

  9. Sam says:

    Ya, Jarod, see, this is Mr Macenstien’s website and he can write about whatever the hell he wants. No one is forcing you to come here and read his OPINION on things that are RELEVANT to his INTERESTS.


    Personally, I don’t like the pretentious tone that it sounds when removing the “the”. However, I do agree with Xeno’s opinion, that this might be an attempt to personalize the devices…

  10. Xero says:

    xero dosen’t know what your talking about apple isn’t pretentious how dare you question THE Steve Jobs

  11. Smorgasbord says:

    This proves their advertising is outsourced to India or some other country and things are lost in the translation. Just be glad they don’t outsource their manuals to a foreign country. Think how fun it would be to figure them out.

    I started writing this as a joke, but the more I thought about it the more I wonder if it could be true. We all have seen signs or other literature from other countries that make no sense when translated into English. Could it be it is coming from a foreign country?

    Maybe Apple doesn’t know about the grammatical errors. Maybe Jeff Foxworth’s 5th grade class should write the ads. They do better at the grammar questions than I do.

    I am a retired truck driver that used to write to a 5th grade class with the Trucker Buddy program and they wrote me back. The first sentence of one of the 5th grader’s letters was “You don’t normally start a sentence with the word and.” My grammar checker had said the same thing word for word, but I didn’t want to write it that way. I wish I had gone to a school like that.

  12. Van Souza says:

    If that is really driving you over the edge, seek help now!!! It’s English, the King’s English; that is how it is spoken and written.

  13. thisisjohnny says:

    i don’t think it’s improper in any way. it’s a name — yeah, a brand name, but still a name. names don’t need to have an article refer to them, and actually in some cases it sounds pretty stupid.

    you wouldn’t say, “The Paula and I are going to the mall today. She needs to get a Christmas present for the Nicole.”

    no, you’d leave both “the-s” out. so when you talk about iPod Nano, there’s no need to add the article, especially when talking about a singular item like any of the products in the examples above.

    it makes total grammatical sense.

  14. Tice says:

    Like Xeno said it’s personalisation. A bit creepy I agree. Thank Jobs they don’t do it in the German manuals (or do they?) …

  15. Jarod says:

    Sam: LOL Fair enough!! :-))))

  16. Reuter says:

    It’s a marketing trick. Something in the sentence sticks out in your mind as incorrect, but you can’t place it. Thus… you think about it more… subconsciously of course.

    It’s the same in their TV ads. You remember the TV ad for the iMac… the one where it just spins… and then the end of the commercial is the whole iMac.. mouse, keyboard and all… take a closer looks… the mouse is on the “wrong” side of the keyboard for what most people (the right handed folk) would the proper location…

  17. Jeff Krieger says:

    Me like Apple. But Apple doesn’t know what heck it’s doing here. Signed, The Jeff

  18. alex says:

    There’s a manual written by Apple, it’s like a guide made to whomever wants to build an application for Mac OS X.
    I don’t know where you can find it, but it’s a 30-page pdf file saying EVERYTHING you need to know when writing an app and advertising it.

    There’s a section I remember reading, for example, that says “The word iPod is always written with a normal i and a capital P”

    and there’s the section where it specifically says that all apple product names are to be writter WITHOUT the “the” before them.

  19. Rowlings says:

    @Van Souza,
    The “King’s English”? Ah HA!
    So it IS all Jonathan Ive’s fault!

  20. rick says:

    “Think different” … wouldn’t that be “Think differently” … not as catchy, but grammatically correct.

  21. mike says:

    isn’t the iPhone also third person? the iphone is a sweet mobile device, e.g. it (third person) is a sweet mobile device.

  22. Steve says:

    I recall that it is a trademark issue. If a name becomes a common noun for a device, it loses its trademark status, and anyone can use the name.

    Example of this is “Kleenex.” This is why the company calls them “Kleenex Brand tissues.” If they were to support the use of “Kleenex” as a noun meaning “tissue”, they would lose their trademark over it.

    Hence if it’s called “an ipod” long enough, then Creative can make its own and brand it as the “Creative ZEN ipod”. So apple doesn’t want to call it an “iPod Brand PMP,” they’ll just use the word as though it’s a proper noun.

    Granted it’s stunted and odd, but just as odd as “ipod brand pmp” or some such. And it’s all because of the lawyers. Enjoy.

  23. Zoet says:

    I never noticed this until this column, but I agree with those who feel it’s because Apple wants us to think of their products as humans, not things.

    This actually bothers me less than “Think Different” which of course should have been “Think Differently”.

    But in an age where few seem to care about spelling or grammar and on some forums I participate in, 90% of the people sound like non-native English speakers (even though they’re not), does it really matter anymore?

    How many people properly use their, there and they’re? It irks me when they’re not used properly, but I think it’s a losing battle at this point.

  24. dizzy says:

    @Steve Not saying you’re wrong b/c I honestly have no idea, but I also am not convinced. Got any more details on this claim? Would be interested in learning about this if it is in fact true.

  25. LDMYERS says:

    People are reading too much into these ads. Can’t this apply for Microsoft products as well?

    “Be sure to boot up THE Windows, and open up THE Words, and check your email on THE Outlook.”

  26. imajoebob says:

    Sorry, ‘stein, but this is actually correct (in most instances). Do you say,”A box of THE Gallo wine makes any date special?” How about, “For Christmas I bought you a THE Walmart gift card?” And I’m sure you wouldn’t say, “I’m proud to wear my THE Detroit Lions jersey.” Well, you probably wouldn’t say that with or without the THE, but you understand.

    These are trademarks. iPod is a brand of an MP3 player. If Apple refers to it as THE iPod then they can have trouble protecting that trademark. Bill Cosby never says just “Jell-O.” He says, “Jell-O brand gelatin.” Kleenex tissues. Xerox copiers. Aspirin was a trademark of Bayer, until they allowed it to be used as an equivalent term for generic acetylsalicylic acid. iPod. MacBook, et al will NOT become the next aspirin.

  27. OCDGeek says:

    Apple began using this method of speaking back in 1984 when Macintosh was introduced. I think Xeno is correct, it was done to personalize the product. If you can find the original introduction videos you’ll see Steve referring to it as Macintosh instead of the Macintosh.

  28. landoke says:

    Yeah, I’m not sure what the problem here is…

    “It causes all their MacBook, iPod and iPhone literature to have a pretentious, “talking in the 3rd person”-type of feeling that is very off-putting.”

    Talking in the 3rd person only is an issue when you’re talking about yourself…

    “Sort of like a stuck up tool of a guy named Rik who says things like “Hey, Rik’s hungry” or, more to the point, “Rik’s going to go Rik’s room and lie down in Rik’s bed and listen to iPod“.

    But no, not at all. That’s a totally separate issue. That’s overusing the noun instead of pronouns that makes that sound strange. For example, on the Apple iPod Classic page:

    “With 120GB of space, iPod classic lets you always have your entire music and movie library with you. Carry it from the living room to a party in the backyard. Or take it on a cross-country road trip and never listen to the same song twice.”

    Replace “it” with “iPod” and yes, it sounds funny. Of course, you’re also referring to the fact that Rik is referring to himself in the 3rd person, but iPod isn’t the one writing the web page text… Apple is talking about iPod just as Rik would talk about his dog Smitty.

    In addition, software is always referred to without “the” : iPhoto, Photoshop, Excel, etc. You would never say “Open the Excel” or “Edit your photo in the Photoshop”… So I’m not sure why this is such a big deal to you. Let Apple refer to iPod or iPhoto however they want to.

    Or would you rather me say, “Let the Apple refer to the iPod or the iPhoto however they want to.” 🙂

  29. Rudy says:

    Steve: The legal reason you mention makes a LOT of sense. I vote that it’s the real reason…

  30. The day I take grammar advice from an American is the day that George Bush Jr will get in for the 3rd term. 😉

    Seriously, how does America think they have the right to think their version of English is correct? Britain INVENTED the language for God’s sake.

    When America says “Aluminium” instead of “Aluminum” then I might listen. When America puts back all the letters they took out like the “U” in “colour” then I might listen.

    I like the fact Mac gear isn’t listed with the “the” in front. Like other readers have said it’s more personal and more friendly. It’s not like other devices that are so difficult to use that it’s just another product in a crowded market. I take my iPhone everywhere because it holds all the information I need, has all my music, lets me access information I might need, and lets me play games. It’s like a personal secretary that you get to have sex with, always there and always willing.

    Other devices are like that bitch down in accounting who freaks out at you merely for looking at her, so frigid that Antarctica looks like a tropical paradise by comparison.

  31. Finn says:

    Of course for some, dropping articles altogether seems much more natural. Finnish has never had a need for ‘a’, ‘an’, or ‘the’. To my ear, I prefer the apple approach. Perhaps there is an intent to be simple and direct without excessive objectification.

  32. Smorgasbord says:

    This proves to me we have become TOO CIFILIZED!!! We need to go back to the simple way of talking. “Me buy iPod. Me listen to iPod. Me like iPod. You buy what you like.”

  33. imajoebob says:

    1) Aluminum is the noun used for alloys made from the element Aluminium. Distinct spellings delineates the two.

    2) Spelling? “Manoeuvre.” Enough said.

    3) If UK English is so superior, why does it stoop to French for the simplest veggies? Aubergine for eggplant; courgette for zucchini, and (gasp!) mange tout for snow/snap peas.

    4) There are 7 or 8 times as many speakers of colloquial American English as there are of the King’s English. And despite a few spelling differences, Canadian (still subjects) English is closer to American.

    5) Until the turn of the 20th Century, it was more likely that the King barely even spoke “The King’s English.” The royals spoke German most of the time. Coincidentally, German was almost the official language of the States, and it’s colonial preponderance is one reason there is no “official” US language.

    6) If you’re really the jingoist you profess, we should be discussing Englisc spoken by Angelfolc in Englaland. We wouldn’t want to use that polluted mongrel modern English.

    Besides, we shouldn’t waste our time criticizing (criticising) each other over a few unimportant idioms. Let’s go after those grubby Aussies who really bastardized the language!!

  34. ArtOfWarfare says:

    Well, I just got the RAM I wanted for Christmas today, and I was looking through the manual that came with the iMac to figure out how to do it… and I couldn’t help but notice after reading your article, that the very first page of the manual says,

    “Congratulations, you and your iMac were made for each other.”

    Look at that, the iMac’s being used as just a normal noun. Just like you’d use the word girl… rather than using it as a proper noun.

  35. BigJayhawk says:

    I truly don’t get those that do not understand that language is what the orator chooses it to be. Apple is as meticulous with it’s language as it is with it’s products. We would all complain about ERRORS in our computers (yes, EVERY SINGLE one on this forum have done so and will continue to do so). However, when Apple assures that EVERY word in their ads are meticulously matched to a plan and ERROR-FREE, some call this stuck-up and errogant? I’ll side with Apple and their quest for error-free computers and advertisements. (And yes, “Think Different” PERFECTLY DEMONSTRATES Apple thinking differently by writing the ad campaign different than it “un-differently” would be written. How is that not OBVIOUS to ANYONE?)

  36. BigJayhawk says:

    Sorry about the it’s instead of its. Apparently, iPhone does not have Apple’s ad agency (or is it THE Apple’s ad agency, I forget) built in because it changed my typing of its to it’s automatically. Go figure!

  37. Richard says:

    Apparently some people have waayyyy too much time on their hands, including, apparently me for even bothering to read this and write something about it. There are real problems we face in this world. Environmental, economic, social. Take your pick. How about getting a bit mad and write something about something that really matters instead of whether or not Apple includes “the” or not.

  38. sidewinder3000 says:

    this story is idiotic. i’m angry at myself for clicking the link and reading it through. branding is a means by which companies give their products personalities and differentiate them in the marketplace. apple’s naming strategy is a keystone of their success, which by any and all marketing standards has been groundbreaking. by removing the article before “iPod”, it makes the product seem more like a person, which apple has been doing since it’s inception. it helps people have more of a relationship with their computers, which allows them to open up to new technology faster and with greater embrace than they would otherwise. from the way the macbook “breathes” when it’s asleep, to the smiling faces of the finder logo, apple products are alive. and people everywhere, the kids, the teachers, the moms, and the dads, like it that way.

  39. Kevin says:

    I never noticed the de-theing before. Didn’t bother me before and doesn’t bother me now. I can see how it would grate others, but I don’t see it as flat out wrong, just a stretch.

    Regarding Think Different, I don’t think that’s wrong, either. Consider the following as slogans for other products:
    Think Warm
    Think Sweet
    Think Creative

    In each of these examples, the adjective is not modifying the verb. Each of these is a sort of shorthand for saying, “Think of the word blank.”

    That’s the way I always parsed Think Different.

  40. ERIC says:

    sidewinder3000 you are crazy.

    Words mean something and marketing and bad journalism and media are KILLING that truth. I just got my wife an iPod Touch for Christmas and while reading through the (sparse) literature that came with it I encountered this crap and got irritated like the Doc. This is completely stupid. These are devices, not people. They are only personal if you are demented or off your rocker – no other way.

  41. ERIC says:

    Regarding “Think Different”

    No, it shouldn’t be “Think Differently” because those are two different things. In this case, they got it right and correct when they wrote “think different” – different is not being used as the end of an action sentence, but as the end of a description sentence (don’t recall the grammer terms). this would be akin to saying “think happier” versus “think green”.

    It’s more a play on words than anything, and in this case it did get people to think about it b/c most people think they wrote bad grammar – but they didn’t.

  42. skid13 says:

    I remember a senator once asked me. When we talk about “CIA” why we never use the word “the” in front of it. And I asked him, do you put the word “the” in front of “God”?


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