And the Rest Is History

The year was 1997. It was around 10 a.m., and the 22-year-old version of me—the graduate student who taught and went to school at night—was fast asleep. And then the phone rang.

“Did I wake you?”
“No,” I lied. (I always do this when the phone wakes me up. It could be 2 a.m., and I’d still act like I’d been awake for hours.)
“Good. I have an important question. My colleague was just talking about an historic event, except she kept saying ‘a historic.’ That’s wrong, right? ‘Historic’ gets an ‘an.’”

Before I go any further, I ask you: which is correct? “A historic event” or “an historic event?”

After asking my friend if this was really worth calling me at the crack of 10 a.m., I told him the truth: I thought it was “a,” but I wasn’t 100 percent. There didn’t seem to be anything special about “historic”; you wouldn’t’ say “an history,” for example, but I’d heard people say “an historic event” so many times, for so long, I thought maybe I was missing something.

I wasn’t. It is, in fact, “a historic event” because the “h” isn’t silent. The rule goes like this: use “a” before words that start with a consonant sound (a beer, a Cheeto, even a unicorn) and “an” before words that start with a vowel sound (an egg, an ostrich, or an MBA).

Interestingly, according to The Oxford Dictionary, the same people who say “an historic event” apparently also often say “an horrific event” and “an hotel.” Why? Because it used to be that way. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, people apparently did say “istoric,” “orrific,” and “otel.”

But they don’t today. So neither should we.

New topic: What do you think of emoticons when it comes to communicating with clients/colleagues in business? Do you find them fun? Welcoming? Irritating? Unprofessional? And are they more acceptable in an instant message than an email? Why? Feel free to be candid. I’m collecting opinions for an upcoming blog. Thanks!  

Word of the Week: Heresy

Song of the Week: “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” by Billy Joel

Comments

  1. Jill Kulchinsky says

    New topic: What do you think of emoticons when it comes to communicating with clients/colleagues in business? Do you find them fun? Welcoming? Irritating? Unprofessional? And are they more acceptable in an instant message than an email? Why? Feel free to be candid. I’m collecting opinions for an upcoming blog. Thanks!

    I feel there is a time, place, and person for everything. Most cases I find them welcoming and show the person has some personality. I like knowing they aren’t a wet blanket.

  2. Mary says

    I admit – I thought it was “an”, not based on the word “Historic” but based on the word “event” (an event) but then I started to change the adjective and it didn’t work out – an loud event (not so much – LOL).

    As for the use of emoticons – using with colleagues is a maybe (dependent upon the situation and context) and with clients would be a no. I am a habitual over user or smiley faces so I wouldn’t begin to judge anyone :-).

  3. Amanda D. says

    Great post! I always wondered about whether “an historic event” was correct or not. (I’m just a lazy English major.) :-)

    Regarding emoticons when communicating with clients and colleagues, I welcome them. :-) I think it shows that someone is trying to connect with me on a more down-to-earth level. Particularly in a business environment when we’re all typing to each other on our computers and phones, sometimes it’s easy to forget the person on the other end is, in fact, another person and not a machine. Whether or not I choose to use them to communicate with others is slightly different. For me, using a smiley or some other emoticon that is appropriate for the situation depends on my rapport with the person. I don’t think I would send an email laden with emoticons to a potential client or even a senior colleague who I didn’t know well.

    Looking forward to the next post!

  4. Lindsay Pillow says

    The incredulous “crack of 10 a.m.” comment made me laugh out loud. I still feel like that some days :-)

    There I go using a smiley face already. I have to try really hard to not overuse. Sometimes I find myself inserting them naturally as my thoughts flow, then going back to edit and remove them once I really think about who I’m writing to, how they would perceive it, and the purpose of the message.

    Maybe that’s the key to finding the right emoticon balance: purposeful use, and taking the time to think about the receiver’s perception and the communication channel before throwing them in thoughtlessly. I think Jill made a good point that there is a time, place, and person for everything. I typically welcome emoticons, and I feel like I have a fairly decent gauge on who would welcome them from me, but I also find it off-putting to receive a professional email from someone I don’t know personally that includes smiley faces right off the bat or excessively.

    I kind of feel like I’m at risk of becoming an emoticon hypocrite. I’m using them frequently myself, but sometimes fazed by others doing the same. (Also, that’s probably the first time I’ve used fazed correctly, thanks to you, Mindy!) I really have to make an effort to evaluate and question if my own emoticon use is appropriate in each situation. (It was really hard for me to not put one in after that last sentence. Or even after this one.)

    If only there were an emoticon reciprocity policy to follow and we could live in a world with mutually agreed upon emoticon use. Can’t wait to see if you lay out any bylaws in your next post :-) (Sorry, couldn’t resist ending this comment with at least one more!)

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