Okay, I’ve been wanting to say this for a long time now: If I was writing the laws, anyone who ever used a variation of the phrase an historic, in absolutely any context, anywhere, would have their tongues immediately cut out.
The phrase is a disgusting mangling of the English language and a violation of basic grammatical rules. It doesn’t look right in print, it doesn’t sound right when said aloud, and any first-grader at even the crappiest schools would be able to tell you it really isn’t right. This odd phrasing of the term a historic came to my attention a few years ago and its been driving me nuts ever since, largely because so many of the people using it are the ones who bitch the most about language being mangled.
Let’s get a quick ground rule settled right off the bat: As anyone who has ever seriously studied the English language – and to make myself clear, by anyone who ever seriously studied the English language, I mean everyone who ever heard it in any capacity – knows, the an sound is to be used before any consonant sound. A is used before any vowel sound. Got that? Now, the letter H, for those who have forgotten all linguistic schooling beyond the second grade, is a consonant. Vowels are pronounced with open vocal tracts, so there’s no pressure buildup and therefore no constriction. That’s in contrast to consonants, which are articulated by partial closure and more movements in lips and teeth.
I don’t know how the term an historic came to infect English. I read an article in the Chicago Sun-Times some years ago which suggested that, when many people pronounce the word historic, they tend to say it like the H is silent and so the result sounds more like an istoric. I can’t say I’ve ever personally heard anyone pronounce the word like that. If that happens, it sounds like someone was too lazy to pronounce a letter. Is this country suddenly so fat and lazy that people get tired trying to pronounce the briefest of exhaling sounds, lest they faint? Or are they uber-fit folks trying to give a lecture to a university history class after a marathon?
I wish I could be bigger and write this off as just another passing trend, like I did with the ridiculous izzle suffix that was all over street slang some years ago. But apparently an historic has been being used for decades, by prominent people. Like, you know, English teachers who get paid to teach the English language the way it’s supposed to be read and spoken.