What the H Do We Care?

For half my life — or maybe I should say ‘alf my life — Americans aspirated the H in “hotel,” “hot-dog,” “hell,” and “history” and dropped the H before words like “herb,” “heir,” “hour,” and “honest.” But then some pronunciation guru made us feel funny about saying “erb” and we started aspirating the H. We served “herb butter” on our ‘aricot vert and thought it sounded more high-falutin’.

But as soon as people began aspirating the H in “herb,” some confused Anglophile copy editor looked up from her desk and said, “We should drop the H in history. It’s more genteel.”

Overnight, half the American writing world became Cockney. “A historical mystery” became “an historical mystery,” which it may be if you don’t aspirate the H — coo, it’s right ‘istorical, it is — but not if you pronounce history like an American.

I imagine reviewers sitting at their pulsating keyboards, fingers suspended, breath caught in exquisite uncertainty trying to decide whether to use “a” or “an” with “history.” They probably lie awake nights thinking of ways to avoid the challenge altogether. Inevitably they’ll have to choose an article and go with it. If they choose “an” they’ll silently mouth a sentence such as, “An historical perspective” and convince themselves it sounds right, like “an ‘onest man.” But not a single one of them would say, “An ‘istorical perspective” out loud because they would sound like Eliza Doolittle before she got the great wardrobe and learned to aspirate her aitches.

The only people who give a Cockney rat’s arse are purists like me who shout at people on television who say “Between you and I,” or “It was for he and I,” and believe they sound more educated and proper than if they’d said, “It was for him and me.” Besides, now with everybody tweeting in initial-code, the use of articles may become obsolete. They’ll be history. Or perhaps ‘istory.

I think I may form a movement to maintain the American H and its article. I’ll go stand on street corners and carry a sign saying “Support a historical mystery!” Only problem is that people will probably think the historical mystery is me.


13 thoughts on “What the H Do We Care?

  1. When someone says “for he and I” it drives me crazy. Don’t they teach that rule in school anymore? The one where you ask yourself “who is it for?” “It is for him. It is for me.”

    I think being a historical mystery is better than being a tweeting nitwit.

  2. Oh, that’s wonderful! We should get bumper stickers made saying, “Being a historical mystery is better than being a tweeting nitwit.”

    I don’t know when people became fearful of objective pronouns and decided subjective pronouns made them seem more intelligent. On the other hand, the same people who say, “it was for she and I” which drives me nuts, will also say, “Her and me were just sitting around,” which drives me nutsier, which probably isn’t a word but should be.

  3. My high school English teacher, Miss Pletch is probably rolling in her grave. She was strict about grammar yet she also knew how to make Shakespeare fun for her students. The world needs more teachers like Miss Pletch. She was one of my favourite teachers.

  4. I feel sorry for people trying to sort out all the rules of our borrowed language. It’s hard enough in writing, when there is time to study the options, but even harder in conversation, so I’ll grant some leeway to him or her or them when he or she or they make an error.
    As for the wayward apostrophes, they may be a lost cause. I have caught myself and others with generally good skills tripping on its, it’s, there, they’re, and their friends . . .
    I may just have to go from
    “I think I may form a movement to maintain the American H and it’s article.”
    to working on my own tolerance of variations . . . but then I do live in Missouri (ee or ah), a state of confusion right next to another, Illinois (oy? or ois?)

  5. You’re right, Margaret. Since I come from Texas, where a lot of people are in the “awl bidness” and our favorite pronoun is “ya’ll,” I really don’t have any bidness criticizing anybody else’s use of the language.

  6. A friend declared me an honorary Texan when I used “y’all” in a post to Storytell (email “family” of 500 or so storytellers). She even gave me a book of Texas idioms to help me practice the language.

  7. My pet grammatical peeve is the growing practice of NOT using “an” before a word beginning with a vowel! I couldn’t believe my ears when a speaker at a seminar recently stated emphatically, “I am a educator.” Yikes!!!

    Running neck and neck with this transgression, is using a double subject: “Governor Scott yesterday, he said…” “The traffic on I-95 this morning, it’s stop and go…” This from our local NPR morning show. I expect better from them and yet I fear my expectations are too high even for that illustrious institution.

    Makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

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