Ukraine versus THE Ukraine

Why do we English speaking folk insist on calling it THE Ukraine instead of just saying Ukraine. We don’t call it the France, so why does this happen?

What You Want: Ukraine

Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It is the largest country contained entirely within Europe. It borders Russia, Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Moldova and Romania.

Ukraine is where the Chernobyl incident occurred, and you can find the abandoned city of Pripyat nearby. It is also has the missile base that launched the missiles that caused the Cuban Missile Crisis. These are both places that are worth checking out if you are into European history.

The important thing for this article is that Ukraine is a country’s name, a proper noun. It is not just a plain old noun.

What You Said: The Ukraine

Being a proper noun, saying ‘the’ Ukraine is incorrect. You don’t say ‘the’ France, or ‘the’ Germany, so you shouldn’t say ‘the’ Ukraine either.

Why It Happens

So why do we do this? Even I found writing that first section a bit weird. Simply saying ‘Ukraine’ instead of ‘the Ukraine’ just doesn’t feel right.

The answer to me seems pretty obvious. There are country names that begin with ‘U’ that contain nouns. The USA is the United States of America. The UAB is the United Arab Emirates. Back in the old days the USSR was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. And the most important one: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That last one is often shorted to ‘the UK’. We say ‘the UK’ so often that when we refer to Ukraine it just feels so natural to say ‘the Ukraine’ instead.

I also think it just sounds odd not to put ‘the’ in front of it. ‘I’m going to France’ sounds fine, but ‘I’m going to Ukraine’ sounds a little weird in English. That -oo -yoo sound in ‘to U-kraine’ feels a little like saying ‘a apple’ instead of ‘an apple’. So although grammatically it’s more correct to say Ukraine, it feels more natural to say ‘the Ukraine’.

A Solution…?

Unfortunately this can be a touchy subject to some people. People from Ukraine can get offended when we say ‘the Ukraine’ because it’s not technically correct. But to English speakers it’s just a more natural way of saying the word.

A little more understanding from both sides may help. English speakers can just be more aware that Ukrainians may not like the way we say it. Ukrainians can be more aware that it’s not meant in an offensive way. It’s just one of those many peculiarities of language that leads us to say things in an odd way.

Rouge versus Rogue

This is the first in a series of articles that attempt to put the record straight about mistakes we often see online. In this first article I look at a mistake that always makes me mentally twitch every time I read it – rouge instead of rogue.

What you want: Rogue

Rogue, pronounced rōɡ, is a dishonest or unprincipled man. It can refer to thieves, ruffians, rapscallions or anyone of an untrusting or criminal sort. A rogue is the opposite of law-abiding, someone who cares only for himself.

In many RPG games, the rogue is usually the thief, acrobat, trap master and backstabber. They are often a part of an adventuring party.  These kind of skills are useful when exploring dungeons full of monsters, traps and treasure.

Nethack, a popular roguelike.
Nethack, a popular roguelike.

In the same vein, a roguelike is a type of game in which you play a solitary adventurer.  The adventurer explores a dungeon, fighting monsters  along the way.  The aim is to find ever more valuable magical items, spells and treasure. They have a particular style that usually involves ASCII graphics and turn-based gameplay.  They are almost always single player games.

What you used: Rouge

“Ladies pinch, whores use rouge.” – Jacqueline Bouvier

Rouge, pronounced ro͞oZH, is the French word for red. In English it is a kind of make-up used to brighten the cheeks. It is usually a red powder which people apply using a brush.

There are various shades of rouge
There are various shades of rouge

An alternative to using rouge is to pinch the cheeks to brighten them.  I believe you have to pinch them quite hard for this to work, which can be painful.

Rougelikes do not exist; although according to Urban Dictionary they are:

“A postmodern fantasy where a modern feminist can face off against the suffocatingly chauvinist entities of make-up.”

I’m still pretty sure they don’t exist though.

Why It Happens

This is common spelling mistake. I’m almost convinced that more people spell it the wrong way (this means it could become the right way).

There are only three words in English that end with -ouge: rouge, gouge, and the more obscure scrouge. So it seems strange that people always get it wrong. I think it’s because there are a lot of words that have ‘ou’ in the middle so people assume that rogue must be spelt the same way.

I also think it’s got something to do with having a single ‘e’ after a single consonant changes the sound to a long vowel (e.g. rob vs. robe). In this line of thinking, it would make sense that rogue should end in -ge, as that would make the ‘o’ sound a long ‘o’.

A Solution…?

So what about spelling it ‘roge’? Dropping the U would certainly stop any confusion. Then again there have been many attempts to standardise spelling in the English language (or should that be standardize?). These have never worked out, so I guess people will always just spell things however they like.