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I was talking to a native speaker some time ago, she was a young adult. And when I mentioned the movie Gone with the Wind, she corrected me, saying that the right title was Gone with Wind. But we know that it is not true.

I was pondering it and arrived at the conclusion that when you use wind without the definite article, it has a literal meaning—movements of bodies of air. But in the title, I think, it has a figurative meaning; maybe the wind is the civil war, some other circumstances, or the passage of time.

Am I right that if you remove the from the wind, it becomes difficult to attach any figurative meaning to it, and it simply becomes wind as a physical phenomenon?

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Very interesting! It's very curious that she chose to drop the the and didn't change Wind to Winds or a Wind. -- (That doesn't mean that wind can only be a countable noun.) –  Damkerng T. Apr 3 at 16:16
    
Incidentally, Gone with Wind sounds like Wind is a name and someone eloped with her. –  helix Apr 3 at 16:56
    
@helix: I think that would be as perverse as thinking gone with the wind implies someone went somewhere with all the musicians in an orchestra's wind section. Obviously there could be situations where such interpretations are perfectly correct, but they're somewhat unlikely. –  FumbleFingers Apr 3 at 18:01
    
It does become a physical phenomenon (note "phenomena" is plural), but it can also be figurative. This is a rather amusing example. –  BobRodes Apr 3 at 19:56

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It's very common to use "the" when referring to "the elements" (that is, to weather).

  • Singin’ in the Rain
  • Blowin’ in the Wind
  • A Walk in the Sun
  • Cipher in the Snow
  • Under the Clouds of Love

I'm guessing that your friend caught hold of this silly notion that we use a to refer to a generic instance, and the when referring to a particular instance already named or known – as if those are the only times we use those articles. Not so! (In fact, that's one of the most common erroneous perceptions I've encountered on ELL.)

Truth is, that generic-vs.-particular instance is just one of many ways these articles are used; most dictionaries will list about a dozen more. Collins, for example, says the following about the:

  • used preceding certain nouns associated with one's culture, society, or community
    go to the doctor, listen to the news
  • used preceding present participles and adjectives when they function as nouns
    the singing is awful, the dead salute you
  • used preceding a noun to make it refer to its class generically
    the white seal is hunted for its fur, this is good for the throat, play the piano
  • used instead of my, your, her, etc, with parts of the body
    take me by the hand

If I say,

I'll be back in a little while; I'm going to go listen to the radio.

nobody asks me, "Which radio?", and nobody corrects me, saying that I should have said, "I'm going to go listen to radio," because "listen to the radio" is idiomatic.

Had Mitchell entitled her book Gone with Wind, it would have sounded awkward. She got it right.


You mention the figurative use of the wind to mean troubling events, Civil War, or the passage of time. Indeed, that's what the title refers to – irrespective of the presence of the article. In fact, Mitchell wasn't the first (or last) to use the wind figuratively or metaphorically. King Solomon analogized with chasing the wind. And when Kansas sings Dust in the Wind, you didn't think they were talking about a dust storm, did you?

I close my eyes only for a moment, and the moment's gone
All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity

Dust in the wind, all they are is dust in the wind

Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see

Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind

Incidentally, crumbles to the ground is the correct way to express it – not "crumbles to ground."

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1  
Incidentally, “gone with the wind” comes from a poem by Oscar Wilde's friend Ernest Dowson. Margaret Mitchell said it had “the far away, faintly sad sound I wanted.” –  neubau Apr 5 at 3:03

The idea that including the article or not has any bearing on whether the intended sense is figurative or not is completely misplaced. The idiomatic passed by, disappeared usage has been around since at least 1832, and the literal sense (drift or [intentionally] travel in the same direction as the wind) has been around much longer. But the article is always present in both usages.

In fact, we normally include the definite article in such references to natural phenomena...

He ran like the wind
Her mood can change like the weather
Early risers get up with the sun
Economic cycles are as regular as the seasons
The course of my life is written in the stars
Prostitutes are still sometimes called ladies of the night
I still need you at the dimming of the day
etc., etc.


Various idiomatic usages where we don't include the article are the exception rather than the rule...

Obviously he loves you! It's as plain as day
We travelled by sea
We work hard all day, so come evening, we're exhausted

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"To have wind" is to be flatulent so I'm afraid I parse "Gone with wind" as "Went while farting".

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Without "the" it sounds unusual and curious. I would not try to read things into the title ( with or without article). " the wind" is the normal
meteorological phenomenon that can carry away things when it is strong just as the water of a river can carry away things. I can think of no logical reason why here the article is used, maybe just for rhythmic reasons, and I don't know whether in all such expressions "the" is used, but I think it is "It happened/was due to the rain/ the snow/the cold/the heat/ the drought.

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