Friday, August 29, 2008

Use of article "la" in front of surnames

In the bad old days before feminism, we in the English-speaking world would often call a man by his surname and a woman by her surname preceded by Mrs. or Miss, or even by her first name. There is still a certain persistence of this, as can be seen, for example, in the many times Senator Clinton was referred to as "Hillary" in the presidential campaign.

But the Italians have a nifty way to get around this. They refer to women in the public sphere by their surname but preceded by the feminine article "la." You may think this only applies to divas and such e.g. la Callas, or that it is pretentious. But I assure you that this is the standard way in which to refer to women whom one does not know personally, or in a primarily personal capacity.