An Hotel?

An Hilarious Way to Talk

In the faux-intellectual American dialect known as dorkburger, there is a convention where one uses the indefinite article "an" before words beginning with an h sound but are unaccented on the first syllable. This gives us such common pieces of snoot as:

  • an historic,
  • an horrendous, and
  • an hypothesis.

Then there is the more extreme dialect called dorkburger-with-cheese. Speakers of dorkburger-with-cheese follow the convention without exception, thus subjecting decent American-English speakers to such paracockney abominations as:

  • The fans let out an hurray.
  • They spoke in an humiliating manner.
  • We checked into an hotel.

You'd think that anyone who wants to be taken seriously would avoid saying or writing "an hotel," but it is considered correct in certain circles. (It's there. Scroll down.) It's certainly consistent. Silly as it sounds, applying this rule in all cases would make things easy. But, as I pointed out earlier, the dorkburgers wouldn't say "an hotel." Neither would they say "a horrific death." They'd prefer to have us all memorize a boatload of individual rules and exceptions for using a and an with words beginning with a consonant h sound.

Thanks a lot, dorkburgers.

Forget them, I say. Here's a better rule, one that is muy fácil, consistent, and ever so satisfying. For the indefinite article:

  • Use a if the next word begins with a consonant sound.
    • a historic victory over the forces of dorkburgery
    • a happy ending for all Americans
  • Use an if it begins with a vowel sound.
    • an honorable use of the indefinite article an
    • an herbal remedy for snootspeak

In other words, treat words beginning with h the same way we treat any other word. If it begins with a vowel sound, use an; if it's a consonant sound, use a. How easy is that?

Oxford dictionaries (to the rescue!) tells us that the practice of employing an in front of words like historic and hypothesis is because many English speakers in the 18th and 19th centuries pronounced those words without the h sound. (Of course, I blame a certain Latin fetish for that.) But when we started pronouncing the h sound in the 20th century, certain of us (in the region of Dorkburg) held on to the an.


I really don't mind if people use an before certain words beginning with consonant h sounds, although I do think it sounds snooty and pretentious much of the time. But that's not a reason for banishing a convention. What I mind is these people "correcting" my students when they don't follow this convoluted convention and memorize the list of 38 exceptions one needs to pull it off. That irks me much. These young people are confused enough. I'd rather they scratch their heads over matters of actual stop saying, "Aren't I?" ;)

This article satisfies Squid Commo Objective (SCO) #2

- Untangle and simplify the rules