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