Source: short audio clip


So, what is a yuppie? Well, actually before we get to yuppie, we need to go back in time. Let's go back all the way to the 1940s. Now, a couple months ago, in DDM we studied a man called Jack Kerouac. And he was a famous author. And he was basically the man who started a generation of people called beatniks.

Although I sort of might have a very basic idea as to why there is no article, whether definite or indefinite, in front of the second yuppie, I just don't know how to put that in rigorous grammatical terms. Nevertheless, I would very much like to hear your ideas on what you think makes him completely leave it out in this case.

My gut feeling is that we can't use neither one due to the fact that it would make it very much unclear what exactly we are talking about here. For example, a yuppie is way too broad. That obviously wouldn't work. the yuppie is too specific. It almost sounds as though we are talking about a particular individual who we're all very well familiar with, not a group of people who choose to live a lifestyle different from the norm, so to speak. So, that's not going to cut it here either. He could just as easily have said yuppies though. And I guess that would be an absolutely fine, if not perfect, choice of grammar, but he didn't, as you can see for yourselves. And I believe it may be because he wants to focus primarily on the concept of yuppie rather than the actual followers of this subculture. And that's by no means a conscious choice. He does that naturally without thinking. Something makes him do that. Maybe the word should even be capitalized when written because it is used in a nominal kind of fashion. I don't know. You tell me. If you can think of other similar examples, feel free to share them. Tell me what you what think.

I guess you could boldly say this is an example of a zero article, but I'm not going to count that as an answer. Well, first of all, duh! It is a zero article because there is literally zero of it. That's a no-brainier. Secondly, here, I'm first and foremost interested in the mechanics of the reasoning that goes behind when a native speaker decides to use a zero article.

  • 5
    It's not so much an example of the zero article as a typesetting failure to distinguish use vs mention: the author should have put "yuppie" in quotes, or italicized it.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 14:09
  • When a person is speaking, especially on tape, there can be neither quotes nor italics. Quotes come into play only when we are dealing the with written word. Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 14:10
  • 1
    Ah, I missed the title of your source. Anyway, mystery solved then. The word is being mentioned, not used. Articles don't come in to it.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 14:13
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    Words which are "used" contribute meaning -- semantics -- to the sentence in which they are embedded. Words which are "mentioned" do not. In the preceding two sentences I mentioned both "used" and "mentioned", but I did not use them. Words which are quoted are typically (but not always) being mentioned but not used. Look up use-mention distinction. Short story: if your source had be written, not spoken, that use of "yuppie" would have been quoted, and you wouldn't even have thought to ask about articles.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 14:21
  • 1
    Number there is a word being used (not merely cited) to mean "the abstract idea of Count that lies behind the realization that things not only can be counted, but that we can refer to counting apart from any particular set of objects." Pace Monica Neagoy, the concept of Number is an a priori concept: one cannot count fingers without first having an idea of what it means to count. Thus, that a priori concept is not an analog for yuppy. The concept of Yuppy is logically posterior to the remarked fact that certain individuals have certain socio-economic traits in common.
    – TimR
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 16:59

1 Answer 1


Martian: Why was that goal disallowed?
Cookie Monster: The striker was offsides when the ball was kicked to him.
Martian: What is "offsides"? [or What does "offsides" mean?]
Cookie Monster: I will tell you, but before we get to "offsides" I want to tell you a little about the history of the game ...
Martian: And why do they call that player a striker?
Cookie Monster: OK OK. Let me give you a brief history, and then we will get to "striker" too.

Get to = address a topic

A name or word, without an article, can be cited in a sentence as a shorthand way of saying "the subject of {name}" or "the meaning of {word}". You might call this Zero-Apposition. I just made that up, however.

A name when being cited as a name, and a word being cited as a word, do not take an article:

What is the origin of the name "Sawyer"?
What is the origin of "Sawyer"?
not OKWhat is the origin of the "Sawyer"?

What is the etymology of the word "orc"?
What is the etymology of "orc"?
not OKWhat is the etymology of the "orc"?

When speaking, the intonation we give to a name or word being cited is different from the intonation we give to it when it is actually being employed, not simply being referred to. The typographic conventions we use to reflect such citation are typically quotation marks or italics.

We can understand that such a citation is being made from "get to", which means (in the context of an answer or explanation) to address a topic or subject.

  • I'm an American, so I don't know much about soccer; I was once in an Irish bar and a soccer game was on and the offsides rule was mentioned. I asked the stereotypical (and ignorant) question "what's the offsides rule?", and the bartender proceeded to explain it to me in the most hilarious and vulgar way (so I can't relate it here).
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 14:42
  • +1, but I think "Get to = address a topic" is misleading. I'd say that get to here has its ordinary sense of "arrive at", and the notion of "address" is inferred from the fact that what we're arriving at has been established as a topic. Addressing the postponed topic is what we do when we arrive at it. Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 16:12
  • 1
    I'd say that "get to" there is being used figuratively, in a sequential time context (the time of the unfolding explanation) rather than literally in the spatial sense of "arrival".
    – TimR
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 17:03

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