A HISTORIC MOMENT: (Warning: I’m going into Safire mode here, so if you don’t like grammar rants, you can safely skip this post.) I was recently reminded that I get annoyed when people say “an historic” something. It’s getting to the point where it’s a historic moment when people don’t use the word “an” in front of the words “history” or “historic.”
Don’t get me wrong. This is not really an huge pet peeve; hearing this usage is not going to give me an heart attack or anything. I don’t mean to sound like I’m in an huff about it. It’s just that this usage might have made sense across the pond, back in the days of ‘enry ‘iggins. But there’s no point to it anymore, at this point in our hhhhistory.
P.S. I don’t like to rely on style manuals to tell me how to speak or write properly; I’d rather trust my instincts. But for those who like to go by the book, read the column at this link, which explains that
The Wall Street Journal Guide to Business Style and Usage calls for a with historic because the h is sounded, just as it is in a holy man or a honking horn.
The general rule today is to use a before sounded consonants and an before vowel sounds or unvoiced consonants, including the pronounced y sound as in a year or a utopia. But of course, it’s an apple or an hour with a vowel or vowel sound.
But an historic or an historical event regularly rears its ugly head — a vestige from British usage that once called for an when the first syllable was unaccented: a history, but an historic or historical event. Nowadays, even in Britain, using an with historic or historian is considered an affectation.
There you have it, straight from an horse’s mouth.
UPDATE: Xrlq properly points out that one of the rules cited by the WSJ in the quote above sounds silly: the part about using “an before vowel sounds or unvoiced consonants, including the pronounced y sound as in a year or a utopia.” I should have read the whole quote more carefully before seeming to agree with it. “An utopia”? “An year”?? Uh-uh. Nope.
I did say that I rely on my own opinion rather than that of the experts — this is a good illustration of why.