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The Paul Turner: Ohio State University’s trademark efforts are ridiculous

Ohio State University mascot Brutus, left, gets grabbed from behind by the Ohio University mascot before the start of a college football game Saturday Sept. 18, 2010 in Columbus, Ohio in this handout provided by OhioCollegeFootball.com (Dan Poel / AP)
Ohio State University mascot Brutus, left, gets grabbed from behind by the Ohio University mascot before the start of a college football game Saturday Sept. 18, 2010 in Columbus, Ohio in this handout provided by OhioCollegeFootball.com (Dan Poel / AP)

Quite a few years ago, I got fed up with the national news media referring to Washington as “Washington state” in contexts where there could be zero chance of confusing it with the District of Columbia.

You know, describing a high country avalanche in “Washington state” or discussing some Northwest trend in “Oregon and Washington state.”

And on and on. I don’t need to tell you. It’s endless. You would think “state” was an official part of our name.

We get it. The world revolves around Washington, D.C. Bow down before the sun rising in the East.

But I had had enough. So as a futile and meaningless gesture, I vowed in print that henceforth I would affix the unnecessary qualifier whenever I mentioned another state in my column.

That’s how I came to type such unlikely word pairings as “Virginia state” or “Nevada state.”

I shared reader anecdotes from, say, a childhood in “Wisconsin state” or a ski trip to “Utah state.”

Naturally this was confusing for readers who had not seen my original throwing down the gauntlet. So, for the sake of clarity, I abandoned that impotent campaign.

But now I think I have another one. Though perhaps this is more of a suggestion than a rant.

You might have noticed over the years that Ohio State University likes to refer to itself as “The Ohio State University.”

That gag-me practice has been deservedly mocked. But apparently administrators at the school in Columbus are utterly tone deaf. Because just recently they took steps to trademark the word “The.”

Yes, I’m shaking my head, too.

It’s funny. I have known any number of OSU alums over the years and usually found them to be reasonably sane. Or at least as sane as one can be after a few years spent navigating a sprawling campus populated by something on the order of a quarter of a million undergraduates. (Slight exaggeration.)

Of course, it’s not just people outside the Buckeye State who have understandably ridiculed this smug, insecure obsession with the word “The.”

A few years ago, in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Ohio State found itself playing underdog Dayton. This was intriguing because OSU routinely snubbed Dayton when drawing up its nonconference schedule each year. At least that’s what the people at nearby Dayton maintained.

Anyway, in the tournament you have to play whoever the bracket dictates.

Well, Dayton won that NCAA game. The next morning, the Dayton Daily News had a big, proud front-page headline that succinctly summed up the goodbye-Columbus sentiments of many Ohioans.

That headline: “THE University of Dayton.”

But I’m not coming to you today with the intention of adding my voice to the chorus of critics who have loudly expressed disdain for this whole “The” business. No, I think it might be an idea worth stealing.

Just think. If you are a Coug, wouldn’t you get a kick out of seeing your alma mater referred to as The Washington State University?

Well, except for being embarrassed by the shameless pretension.

Same with EWU grads. If one of your friends or co-workers accused you of being an idiot, you could sniff in a haughty manner and declare, “I’ll have you know, my good man, that I matriculated at The Eastern Washington University.”

Makes a difference, doesn’t it?

Or what about the college down in Moscow? Do you fear it has it been eclipsed in many ways by Boise State?

One way to reclaim a bit of that lost flagship luster might be to start referring to your school in writing as “The University of Idaho.”

You would no longer be just any old Vandals. You would be The Vandals.

And what about the gentle, hard-praying folks at Whitworth? You’ve already changed your name from “College” to “University.”

Did that do the job, marketing-wise? Perhaps the jury is still out.

But maybe one more tweak would do the trick. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Whitworth University.

Let’s not forget Gonzaga. Though there are some who might suggest that, for GU, the grandiose “The” is already in place, silent but strongly implied.

It’s worth keeping in mind that most people around here didn’t go to college. So could this preface-of-distinction work its magic for high schools, too? Don’t see why not.

“Where did you go to school?”

“I am a proud graduate of The North Central High School.”

You can fill in the blank for your institution of choice. But maybe this would have the greatest efficacy in the grade school context.

In some circles, self-esteem programs have fallen out of favor. People long ago started to make fun of the whole participation trophy culture.

So maybe inserting and emphasizing “The” could do the job instead. Here, see how it sounds.

“Did you grow up in Spokane?”

“Yes, I attended The Wilson Elementary School.”

“You went to Wilson on the South Hill?”

“THE Wilson.”

Of course, it’s easy enough to imagine how all this could get out of hand.

“The Three Bears Preschool” or “The Joyland Daycare” might be a bit much. But perhaps the imagined prestige bump would allow them to charge more.

Maybe that’s The idea.

Columnist Paul Turner can be reached at srpaulturner@gmail.com.

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