Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Silent vs. the Heard H

For the third time, my friend Marco DeSena, now a policy analyst with the Free Enterprise Fund in Washington, DC, makes an appearance on this blog. (See Get a Job! Tips for the Job Seeker on November 21, 2005, and “Try And” vs. “Try To” on January 17, 2006 for earlier mentions.) Mr. DeSena’s latest linguistic lather:

I see the term historic preceded by both a and an. The Wall Street Journal, if I’m not mistaken, uses an. Crain’s Business uses a. Your thoughts?

My response:

Regarding the silent vs. heard h, I go by sound, which is not the traditional view. (See the King James Bible, which uses an to precede h regardless of the sound.) Therefore, I will see you in an hour to discuss a hopeless situation. The "sound" approach applies to abbreviations as well. You have a master’s degree, but an MA (because the M sounds like em, which has an initial vowel sound).

I know that I did not address a/an when preceding historic. I would use a because my Bronx ears hear that h! (I take a history test, not an history test.) But Mr. DeSena is from Queens, so he may hear it differently. I hope that whether he writes about a historic or an historic precedent, his editor overlooks this minor point. After all, his readers would understand his message either way.

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