H bombs are out of date

In the London freesheet which JD and I read a minor war has broken out in the letters page under the rather witty heading 'Dropping an H bomb on the word warriors'.

Furious pedants have been using unparliamentary language on each other over what they see as a life-or-death struggle over the form of indefinite article to be used before words beginning with an 'h'. One correspondent asserts that "an hotel is correct because the word is French and you are not supposed to pronouce the h but rather say an 'otel".

Turning to the very first page of Fowler's I immediately found that 'an' which I have always called the indefinite article, is known to grammarians as a central determiner. Which would be a great fact to use at a cocktail party, were I ever to be invited to one.

But on the use of a/an before h-words in which the first syllable is unstressed Fowler, having admitted that opinion is divided, says:

The thoroughly modern thing to do is to use 'a' (never 'an') with an aspirated 'h' (eg, a historical) but not to demur if others use 'an' with minimal or nil aspiration given to the following 'h' (eg, an historic).

However, it seems that the use of "an hotel" is now old-fashioned. The bottom line, according to Fowler's, is "the choice of form remains open".

So much for pedantry.

An 'istoric 'otel

5 comments:

mighty red pen said...

And Fowler is nothing if not an authority on the thoroughly modern.

Apus said...

Be fair mr, I am using the third edition which was only published (pause while I check)... 14 years ago. Well for a pensioner like me that is modern!

JD said...

My second-edition Fowler's simply says "the old-fashioned pronunciation with the h silent is almost dead"...

The Ridger, FCD said...

I was taught - though not overtly, I must admit - that "an" is used before H- when the first syllable is not stressed, so "a history" but "an historic", "an horrendous thing to say" but "a horrible thing..." and certainly "a hotel" - but I was also overtly taught that this is not a rule but a preference and let other people say an/a H- as they choose. Like potayto/potahto.

Apus said...

and indeed tomahto/tamayto. Does anyone else feel a song coming on?