“The” Is Doing a Lot of Work

As most folks worldwide know by now, my book about Robert Hansen is titled “Butcher, Baker.” That title was a piece of luck. The naming of books is usually up to the publisher, who always has the final say. “Butcher, Baker” was, in fact, the name that Walter Gilmour and I favored. We thought it would work in multiple senses. And it was original. There were no references to Robert Hansen as “Butcher, Baker” prior to the publication of our book. None. You can look it up yourself.

Hint: The ONLY reliable source is The Anchorage Daily News archive. Start with February, 1984 and work your way forward. Of course, that was then. “Butcher, Baker” has now reached generic status. The name stuck. Walter and I always thought it would. In fact, in ordinary speech, it has become a noun phrase.

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Butcher, Baker cover
(copyright Open Road)

Our literary agent, Robert Lescher, insisted we keep the name “Butcher, Baker,” even after he fired us. Luckily, he took us back. The rest is history.

Leland E. Hale on the naming of Butcher, Baker

The Work of Naming Books

The trouble was, there was already a book titled “Butcher, Baker.” Bookstores and the Library of Congress frown on that. To get around it, the publisher added a subtitle: “The True Account of an Alaskan Serial Killer.” Problem solved. Whew.

Flash forward and you can find several books — it’s a cottage industry by now — that use Butcher, Baker in the title. The difference this time is that they add “The” in front of “Butcher, Baker.” This is not, as far as I’m concerned, the noun phrase usage. Instead, it’s a clever way to take advantage of the first book in the Robert Hansen sweepstakes. Use the title. But change it just enough so it’s… acceptably confusing. I call it “tailgating.” Copycatting is another term that works.

Note the name of the Bernard Du Clos book about Robert Hansen. “Fair Game.” Yeah, it can be done. Highly recommended, BTW.

Tailgating Examples

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As you can see, the typesetting on the cover above emphasizes “Butcher Baker” and then appends “The” as an afterthought. The word “the” is doing a lot of work here. At a quick glance it reads “Butcher, Baker.” Another one below:

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The Jack Smith cover title also uses a clever workaround. “The” is doing a little less here. It’s set in the same font-size as “Butcher.” But “the” is still doing a lot of work. Take it out of the title and… Jack Smith’s publisher has got problems.

Which leads us to the most egregious example of “the” in a title also containing “Butcher Baker.”

doesn't work for me

Backslaps All Around

I’m almost certain the publisher and the graphic artist for this little gem slapped each other’s backside when they saw what they’d wrought. You can hardly see the “THE” in its title. At a glance it reads “Butcher Baker.” It is meant to confuse you, dear reader. A clear case of “tailgating.”

Tellingly, this book was released in 2013, the same year The Frozen Ground movie was released. A coincidence? I think not. By the way, in case you missed it, here is a close-up of the cover. You can clearly see how much work “The” is doing in this title.

doesn't work for me

So that’s it for today’s English grammar lesson. Funny how a little word, not even formally considered one of the eight speech types in the English language, can do so much. Today is brought to you by the word “THE.”

UPDATE

In my initial pass on this topic, I thought I’d uncovered ALL the chicanery. Nope. On July 9, 2013, the Reagan Martin book was published as “Hunted On Ice.”

ONE DAY LATER “Hunted On Ice” was republished as “The Butcher Baker.” Everything else is the same. The descriptive text. The number of pages. Yep. Chicanery. (I don’t blame Martin, BTW. Book titles, as noted, are the exclusive domain of the publisher.)


Copyright Leland E. Hale (2022). All rights reserved.

Craig

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Order my latest book, “What Happened In Craig,” HERE and HERE. True crime from Epicenter Press about Alaska‚Äôs Worst Unsolved Mass Murder.

Craig

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