Something I’ve noticed in the London radio market is that a large number of on-air people use the long e version of the word ‘the’ almost exclusively. It’s rather astonishing! It’s as if they’re kicking it old school, as in Biblical, with the language. During a recent session with a new client we got talking about her experience at school and some of the instructors with whom I am acquainted. The “thee” issue came up because, apparently, one of the aforementioned profs is telling students that there is a hard and fast rule for when to use the soft and the hard e sound in the word “the”. I’m quite sure there is a rule. This instructor is telling them to say “thee” ahead of a proper name. However many of these students are coming away with the idea that “thee” is the proper way to say it every time.
In radio the proper use of the language is important, for sure, but so is making that language sound proper. If someone is saying “thee this” and “thee that” they’re going to give the impression that they’re Moses giving his flock instructions for following him through the parted waters. It sounds exceedingly formal and choppy and unnatural.
I’ll give you another example: “The man returned the pants, for which he had paid twenty-five dollars.” That’s proper and correct and it may work for the eye but for the ear it sounds like the reader has a very large stick stuck somewhere very small. I used to have a rule for my news writing. Never use the word “which”. So the sentence would become, “The man returned the twenty-five dollar pants” or “The man returned the pants. They had cost him twenty-five dollars.” The big question is, were these pants on sale or is this man just incredibly cheap? But I digress.
It’s about accuracy but it’s also about sound. Listeners need to feel comfortable in the presence of your sound and if you’re theeing them with every sentence they’re not going to feel that way. Some rules are meant to be bent.