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Don't get in an huff

Twice within the past twenty-four hours the a/an-before-h question has been put to me.

Answering the first inquiry, I sent links to two previous posts addressing the issue* and received a polite thanks in return.

Then I received this message of Facebook:

[W]hat about newscasters and others saying "an historic (anything)" on-air? A local news executive has said to me that "an historic ..." is easier to say on-air than "a historic ..." Really, I guess I can han "an hat" on it with "an hand over an heart." Sheesh!

So let me try once again to clear this up.

If words begun in an h that is not aspirated, we all use an: an heir. If words begin with an aspirated h, we use a: a hat.

But when a word beginning with h is not stressed on the first syllable, the h is not strongly aspirated, and some speakers (I am one) are inclined to find an more congenial: an hotel, an historic, an Hispanic. Both choices have been acceptable over time, although an hotel sounds archaic or stagy to many modern ears.

This is the thing to remember: Neither choice is wrong. You get to speak as it suits you, and damn the eyes of anyone who denies you that freedom. If you are writing or editing for a publication that expresses a preference, follow that preference.

And the next time you are trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored, pick an object for your anger that amounts to something.





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