Why is it "'an' historical"?

Today, when *understanding * of the process that has led to the current situation is generally very limited, the problem with writing “an historic” in mainstream media publications is that many readers will assume that the spelling is also a guide as to how you should pronounce the words.

Thus, rather than “an (h)istoric choice”, many people (without the benefit of a knowledge of history) will think it should be pronounced as “an historic choice”.

In England, you can from time to time hear people who fall into this trap. A little knowledge…

Regarding “history” (Fowler notwithstanding - and he/they are not the final authority), I went to school in England with a boy from Northern Ireland (born there of parents born in England, as I recall, and residing there until he was 13), and he used to say 'istory.

This may be a regional thing. Anyone else from a region where the aitch in history is dropped?

Americans, as in LBJ’s “My fellow Merkins”.
But be careful if you tip it into Google, because some quite different things will come up :eek:

It’s dropped in a true Suffolk accent, replaced with a slight glottal stop - although such a thing is rare nowadays. I think I do it sometimes, but I’m one of these people who’s accent varies noticeably according to who I’m talking to.


Let me get this straight: the author of the work that has been the standard reference on English usage for nearly 80 years is not the final authority, but a boy you went to school with is?

But seriously, no one is denying that some (though not all) Britons drop their aitches, have done so in the past, and probably will continue to do so. But in answering the OP, the fact that random folks may have used the an historical construction is not really at issue.

Fowler’s cite demonstrates that there was a time when academics and serious writers considered an historic to be correct, and that the reason for it was not merely that the h was not always voiced, but because the first syllable was unaccented. Cockneys may say “an 'at,” but Time magazine would never have printed “an hat.”

You’re whooshing us, right?

Some tentative answers. My phonology and phonetics classes happened a long time ago!

In rapid connected speech, ie conversation, most Brits (and probably most other native speakers of English) drop the “h” sound on many words (had, hard, happen, history etc) regardless of where the accent (stress) falls. Only Prince Charles seems not to accept this - even though he does it himself.

Well, Fowler mentions the unaccented syllable scenario, but what I am saying is that there may be a cluster of factors operating here (including the one mentioned by Fowler). His explanation (or is it an ad post hoc fiat?) would not account for “an hospital” and “an history”, for example, which the explanation “after the French manner of speaking” would account for.

But no one’s suggesting they should!

No. But there has been a whiff of a discontinuity problem (ie not everyone being on the same wavelength) in this thread, so I may - to paraphrase Monty Python - have been whooshing you in my spare time!

The phenomeonon of accent shift is also interesting. While “hotel” has the accent on the second syllable, in “Hotel California”* the accent is moved back (to the first syllable) to avoid two adjacent accented syllables (hoTEL CALiFORnia). Despite this, I think Don Henley is still correct (as opposed to Fowlerian incorrect) to refer to it as “the 'otel California”. Of course, the beat promotes this rendering, BUT I don’t think he is being forced into a wrong pronunciation by the beat. The language permits it.

  • Hotel Florida would work just as well, in case the Eagles are not your cup of tea.

Personally, I think this is a misbegotten meme that spread throughout TV land in the early nineties.

Aside: why do (some?) Americans not pronounce the ‘h’ in “herb”?

Because the American pronunciation is “erb”. Brits say “herb”.

Sorry, Cisco, but that just confiirms that Americans do not pronounce the ‘h’. My question is: why don’t they pronounce it?

For the same reason we don’t pronounce the ‘h’ in “honor, hour, and heir.” They’re all words from French. Some of them came over with the ‘h’ aspirated; some didn’t. Some words—like humor, hotel, and in our case herb—are pronounced with our without the ‘h’, depending on the dialect.

It’s a mystery, then.

Time for some more spelling simplification?

Just adding my 2 cents’ worth.

My Brummie Hubbie, when complaining of a pain in his cranium, has an 'eadache. I would have a headache. It took me a while to get used to it, but at first it did sound like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Another one that really bugs me is the difference between American collective nouns and British ones. I (being an amer’can) would say something to the effect of, “the crowd is yelling obscenities,” while the Britishism would be, “the crowd are yelling obscenities.” I first heard an example of this in a movie and thought they’d totally messed up!

I’m better educated now.