Ohio State owns The. The word. The. Or at least the version of THE that comes out when caps lock is stuck on.

On Wednesday, the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted The Ohio State University a trademark to use THE on “clothing, namely t-shirts, baseball caps and hats; all of the foregoing being promoted, distributed, and sold through channels customary to the field of sports and collegiate athletics.”

This ends quite a saga for THE.


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Ohio State originally attempted to trademark THE in 2019, but got rejected. Part of the issue? Designer Marc Jacobs had filed a trademark for THE just months earlier.

Who knew there was such a market for trademarking articles of the English language?

Ohio State also had to demonstrate to the USPTO that its use of THE wasn’t merely ornamental. Whatever that means.

After reaching an agreement with Jacobs wherein both parties can sell clothing with the word THE on them, Ohio State proved to the USPTO that THE isn’t an ornament. So now The Ohio State University can put THE on anything it wants, and you cannot.

But why should Ohio State be THE only school in the Big Ten having THE fun?

To commemorate this landmark decision, Saturday Tradition is unveiling THE list of words and phrases that every B1G school should trademark — though surely in most instances they already have. We’ll let the lawyers verify whether that work has already been done.

Illinois: I-L-L

The dashes are crucial to this trademark, which differentiates I-L-L from ILL. The former is a chant at Illinois football and basketball games that is met with “I-N-I” from the fans on the opposite side of the stadium. The latter is the feeling fans got watching Illini football during the 2010s.

Indiana: Hoo-Hoo-Hoo

As in the standard greeting of “Hoo-Hoo-Hoo, Hoosiers!”

Spelling is key here so as not to get sued by The Who.

Iowa: The letters I, O, W and A

If you can trademark a 3-letter word, surely you can trademark individual letters. The idea here? Have a game where fans wear the letter that their section of the stadium is responsible for saying during the I-O-W-A chant.

The lawyers might have to check on whether Sesame Street has gobbled up all the letter trademarks, however.

Maryland: Fear the Turtle

The Terrapins have already won the race to get this phrase trademarked. In fact, the university even has an uber-specific graphic style guide dictating how the phrase can or cannot be used.

For example: “Don’t redraw, reproportion, embellish or modify the shell. Ever.”

“Don’t flip the shell on its side.”

“Don’t use the shell as bullet points.”

Michigan: Michigan Man

The phrase “Michigan Man” took a life of its own in 1989 when then-AD Bo Schembechler fired basketball coach Bill Frieder on the eve of the NCAA Tournament. Frieder had reached an agreement to coach Arizona State once Michigan’s season was over.

Schembechler let him bounce early, declaring, “A Michigan man will coach Michigan!”

Since then, it’s been part of the vernacular, and the type of thing that a Michigan fan would be proud to declare. Though an expansion to include “Michigan Woman” seems wise for business.

Michigan State: Sparty

Sparty is the name of Michigan State’s mascot, but it’s also become synonymous with the entire MSU brand. There are several other Spartans out there, but “Sparty” is the differentiator that lets everyone know you’re talking about Michigan State.

Minnesota: Ski-U-Mah

There likely isn’t much concern about Marc Jacobs trying to trademark this phrase, which only makes sense if you’re a Golden Gopher. We just want to make sure it’s covered in case someone forgot to apply for a trademark when the phrase was coined by Gopher rugby players John W. Adams and Win Sargent in 1884.

Nebraska: Sea of Red

This common descriptor of Memorial Stadium shares a name with a Liberty University fan site and a comic book series featuring 16th century vampire pirates. Best to get that trademark squared away to avoid any confusion!

Northwestern: Lake the Posts

Back in the darkest days of Northwestern football, students would rip out the goal posts at then-Dyche Stadium and march their prize to Lake Michigan, where they’d be baptized in the lake’s icy waters. This was known as laking the posts.

It’s no longer possible to lake Ryan Field’s far more secure goal posts. But since everything retro is cool, why not capitalize on the craze and sell ’80s-style Lake the Posts gear?

Penn State: We Are

The phrase “We Are” goes hand-in-hand with its reply greeting of “Penn State.” Indeed, the We Are sculpture is now one of the iconic features of Penn State’s campus.

Purdue: Boiler Up

Much like Michigan Man, this phrase came into the lexicon later than most people might assume. Joe Tiller’s wife, Arnette, came up with the phrase in 1997 and Purdue fans have been shouting it ever since.

Boiler Up is indeed an officially licensed Purdue trademark, joining the likes of Paint Crew, Higher Education at the Highest Proven Value, I Am An American, Cradle of Quarterbacks and Den of Defensive Ends.

Really, all of those are trademarked. Because when you produce Kyle Orton, you are a cradle of American quarterbacks at the highest proven value.

Rutgers: Keep Chopping

Michigan State coach Mel Tucker has tried to make “Keep Chopping” his own phrase recently, but he better not attempt selling any shirts with it.

That’s because the trademark belongs to Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano started using the phrase in his first stint at the school in 2005. Rutgers trademarked the phrase back then, and then renewed it when Schiano came back to the program in 2019.

Wisconsin: On

If Ohio State gets The, Wisconsin has every right to claim On. As in “On, Wisconsin!

And the Badgers shouldn’t stop at On. Might as well try to trademark the comma and exclamation point, too.

THE worst thing the USPTO can do is say no.