Why is it crass or impolite to say "the HIV"

For example, you wouldn’t ever say “John has the HIV after a session of unprotected sex.” You wouldn’t even really say “John contracted the HIV after a session of unprotected sex.”

But HIV stands for human immunodefficieny virus and I don’t understand why we pretty much always drop the “the” that should proceed it. If you actually were to spell it out in words, you wouldn’t say “John contracted human immunodeficiency virus after a session of unprotected sex.” You would say “contracted the human…” for grammatical correctness.

For example, you would never say “John is from USA” but rather “John is from the USA.”

For AIDS, it makes sense not to use “the” because Syndrome is an uncountable noun or whatever. Virus is not, so it seems to need the article.

Just a curiosity that popped into my mind. What say you?

It’s not inherently rude or crass. It’s just a construction that is often associated with the uneducated and ill-informed. Someone who says “the diabetes” or “the HIV” is likely to be someone who says stuff like “the gays” and the “the Ayrabs.”

I don’t think it would sound crass or impolite, it would just sound like an old-personism like if they said “I’m going down to WalMart’s” or “I’ve got diabeetus”.

I would say “John is HIV+” “I’m HIV-”

I guess, for me, I treat is as a proper noun even though it’s not. I wouldn’t call it “the HIV” any more than I would say I was going to visit “the Houston.” It sounds just as weird to me as people who say “the diabetes” (pronounced moronically as exemplified above). And as another example, there’s a common colloquialism around here regarding a food store chain called Jewel, not only to people put “the” in front of it, they also pluralize it. Instead of, “Hey, I’m going to Jewel for bread and milk, do you want anything?” Many people say they’re going to “the Jewels.” Drives me batty.

You can thank Wilford Brimley for the diabeetus as that’s how he says it in his commercials for Liberty Mutual.

An odd counter-example to “the HIV” vs HIV is everyone’s least favorite wintertime ailment, the flu. You don’t often hear people saying that they got flu as “the flu” is the common abbreviated form of influenza.

Yeah, the use of definitive articles often seems randomized. All you have to do is compare British English versus American English. In Great Britain, a person is in hospital; in the US, they’re in the hospital. Even aside from regionalisms, we’re chock full of inconsistencies. We may catch cold or a cold, but we only ever come down with the flu. We drive a car but take the bus. We go to class and talk to the teacher. Go figure.

Part of it is that HIV is considered a diagnosis in itself, entirely separate from having AIDS. I mean, we don’t talk about someone having the cancer or the diabetes or the mononucleosis. Okay, some of us do. But the rest of us make fun of those folks.

Of course, technically, if you say “the HIV” I could ask “which one?”, since there are at least two major strains and many other substrains. Then again, perhaps I’m just being pedantic ;).

Because all the cool kids nowadays are calling it the hivvy.

I suggest looking this up on The Google

Yes, I would, and apparently so would plenty of other people. A quick Google gives me 79,200 hits for “contracted human immunodeficiency virus” and 45,600 for “contracted the human immunodeficiency virus”. FWIW the first few results I get for the former are mostly articles from medical journals while the first few hits for the latter are mostly newspaper articles and public health sites.

Very generally initialisms take an article and acronyms don’t unless they’re being used as an adjective. So it’s “The FBI agency manages blah blah blah” but “NASA is in talks to yadda yadda yadda”. But there are always exceptions like as you noticed HIV. Television corporations seem to be an exception as well. We talk about the new hit show on ABC, not the ABC, but if we were to write it out, we’d say the American Broadcasting Company. Why this is, I don’t know.

This is a difference of a slightly different flavor. Anarthrous nouns, that is, nouns that don’t take an article occur when the noun under discussion is being used in a canonical or primary sense. For example, a child visiting a school for the purpose of learning is said to go to school, while their parent attending that evening for a PTA meeting would say they have to go to the school. BE has made this distinction when it comes to the word hospital but AE has not. An interesting example of a word gaining anarthrous status can be found in the word Prom, at least in the US. When I was a junior in high school and I took my date to the country club for our school’s prom, we went to prom. When my parents showed up to take pictures of us at the march, they went to the prom. And if you asked my parents, they would have used the prom for both situations. Language change in action.

Interesting points one and all. Thank you. And I learned a new word “anarthrous” to describe a phenomenon I knew about but never knew it had a name.

I’ve got “the flu” is disappointing. Jimmy has “the cancer” or “the HIV” is closer to a death sentence and trivializing it. That’s just a guess.

Speaking unidiomatic English is neither crass nor impolite, it merely reveals that you are a foreigner (or perhapsspeak a non-standard dialect).

If tell you I have HIV, I mean that I am infected with it; if I tell you that I have the HIV, I probably mean something like that I have a test tube with a sample of the virus in it, a sample of whose existence you are already aware.

In general, British and American English use articles in exactly the same way, and the rules are very consistent, and consistently followed by almost all native speakers (even though few if any of them maybe able to articulate just what the rules are, or the rationale behind them).

The case of “in (the) hospital”, which has frequently been discussed on these boards before, maybe the only significant context in which British and American English differ over the use of “the”. Furthermore, British people do say “in the hospital” in some circumstances. In Britain “in hospital” and “in the hospital” have subtly different meanings: a British person would not be in hospital unless I were receiving medical care there (probably as an in-patient), but they might be in the hospital because they work there, or because they are visiting someone who is in hospital because they are sick. American English (apparently) denies itself the capacity to make this distinction without periphrasis, though only, I think when discussing hospitals. (I am fairly sure competent speakers of American English understand the difference between “in jail” and “in the jail”, or “in school” and “in the school”, for instance.)

Catch cold is mostly a British thing, or very regional American thing too. Most American speakers say “catch a cold” I believe.

“To market” is another mainly UK thing to say, whereas American prefer “to the store” or more rarely “to the market.”

So it’s not just hospital.

British people say “catch a cold” too. “Catch cold” is also sometimes used, but it sounds a bit old fashioned to me, and I think it is bound up with the (now discredited) idea that cold temperatures actually cause colds.

Back in the 19th century maybe, and only then if they were going to an open-air country market or street market.

What British people generally actually say is “to the shop”. Both “store” and “market” to refer to a shop are mainly American usages.

I am not denying that there are plenty of differences between British and American English, but the differences are nearly all in vocabulary, not syntax, and in particular the two “dialects” use articles in just the same way almost everywhere. Even the “hospital” thing does not change the rule, it is just that (for reasons I do not understand), when it comes to talking about hospitals, Americans deny themselves the use of a syntactic distinction that is in fact as much a part of American English (when discussing anything but hospitals) as it is of British.

We catch flu quite a lot in the UK. Catching the flu actually sounds a little odd and vaguely old fashioned to me, though I’ve certainly heard it both ways.

So, does anyone use the term “Hi Five?” I heard that on an episode of “ER,” and I wondered if that was indeed a common, uh, “urban” term for it.