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an historic occasion (sic)

March 14, 2017

Watching University Challenge last night, I winced as Jeremy Paxman referred in a question to “an historic occasion” – pronouncing the h in historic. I hate this mistake. It’s surprisingly popular, especially amongst people who would normally pride themselves on the accuracy of their spoken English. This is how it came about: the word history comes to us via the French histoire, which of course has a silent H. And so for a while it was pronounced without the H, just like hour, honest and honour, which also come to us through French. So we said an historic occasion, just as we say an hour, an honest man, an honourable defeat etc.

But then – for what whatever reasons – the H in history made a return. Yet (some) people carried on using an with it; perhaps because they had seen it in writing. And these people seem to think it sounds cool. But it really doesn’t. We should either say an ‘istoric occasion or a historic occasion.

The same confusion occurs with regard to hotel; some would-be pedants say an hotel, when it should be either an ‘otel or a hotel.

If Mr Paxman chances to read this, I hope he will mend his ways and repudiate this annoying error.

P.S. May I bring to your attention my comic fantasy YA novel The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers – here is the link: https://unbound.com/books/adam-gowers . Go there and you will see a neat little 2-minute video of me explaining why the time for this novel has come! And if you support it you will get your name in the back and an invitation to the launch party.

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3 Comments
  1. Simon Carter permalink

    Americans say ‘erbs for herbs for the same reason. And of course sergeants speaking to new recruits in films always refer to an ‘orrible little man.

  2. Well, that’s true. But at least Americans don’t say ‘an herb’ (with ‘h’ sounded)!

  3. Simon Carter permalink

    So it’s another form of hyper correction? ‘Otel won’t sound right to anyone who doesn’t know the rule so change it to hotel. Or drop the indefinite article.
    As a sidebar a friend had a teacher called Mr. Winders who was always addressed as Mr. Windows by parents.

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