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On Forbes I read the headline, 'The billionaire with the empty pockets'

Why is the definite article used here? How is this possibly different from, 'The billionaire with empty pockets'?

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2 Answers 2

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First, let's look at another example. A group of businessmen organize an event. Each contributes a proportion of the cost, and hands it over in advance to one person: let's call him Sam. At the end of the event, the manager of the venue presents the bill to a guy called John. John can't simply say:

That guy over there is the man with money.

.. because all of the men present have wallets full of money. There is nothing unique about Sam in this respect. The manager wants the money for the event, and John wants to identify Sam, the person with this specific money, so he has to say:

That guy over there is the man with the money.

The article whose title you quote is about a billionaire who claims not to own his company, Oren investments. Oren is specific, so when we refer to it using the metaphor of empty pockets, we have to put the in front.

If we were talking about a particular billionaire who never puts anything into the pockets of his clothes, we are not talking about any specific pockets, so we describe him as

The billionaire with empty pockets.

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Think of this situation as there being at least two classes of billionaires with two types of pockets: the ones with their pockets full of money and the ones whose pockets are always empty. The fact that in the first case the pockets are full of money and the fact that in the second case the pockets are always empty make these two types of pockets very specific to this situation. And now we can refer to these two classes of billionaires as the billionaire with the pockets full of money and the billionaire with the empty pockets. In the title, they're talking about an individual who belongs to the second class of billionaires. Please don't take all that I just said literally. This is just an example to illustrate the main principle behind the logic as to why there is a definite article in front of empty pockets.

The example above is conceptually very similar to the idea of how we refer to different species of animals when we think of them as unique classes: the spotted owl, the American black bear, the snowshoe hare etc. When you say that the spotted owl has an average length of 43 cm, you're not talking about a particular owl whose body is covered with spots, you're actually referring to the entire class of owls with the characteristics specific to that species of owl.

Does all this explanation makes sense to you?

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  • ...have you read the article? It's not about a class of billionaire that has empty pockets: it's about a particular billionaire (Igor Olenicoff) with particular empty pockets (Olen investments).
    – JavaLatte
    Feb 14, 2018 at 8:07

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