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.