Choice gleanings from 45-plus years of Unregistered Bull.
Some years ago, in an obvious fit of pique, this department took issue with people who write “drought” when they really mean “drouth.” It was a nit-picking complaint, lacking either popular or official support, although our own $32 dictionary says “drouth” is permissible.
It was my contention that if writers are going to spell it “drought” when they pronounce it “drouth,” then they might as well write “sought” when the mean “south.”
This effort to influence the habit of other writers had about as much impact on contemporary journalism as a suggestion that all member nations pay up their dues would have on the Russian delegation to the United Nations. Therefore it seems advisable to drop the matter. Let the other typewriter hacks continue spelling the word one way and pronouncing it another. How can one tiny cloud of complaint dampen a mighty desert of obstinacy?
However, at the risk of being charged with freedom of the press, I am going to scream a protest against a certain other foible of the Fourth Estate: “an historic.”
Newspapermen are not alone in this perversion of our mother tongues. Pompous speakers and would-be writers everywhere are committing the same crime. It is to be suspected that newspaper writers are most guilty, since they hammer out the most copy day after day; and they could do more than anybody else to put a stop to the awful practice.
Why should this column bother to mention such a thing? Well, it happens that this writer, like so many subscribers to this paper, has kids who are expected to learn to speak and write English by the time they’re old enough to vote. Their education by that time will represent a considerable investment. And it’s almost impossible to prevent adolescent youngsters from seeing a newspaper occasionally.
Therefore, I register a plea with reporters, copyreaders and editors everywhere: Please, in the name of Merriam-Webster, Quiller-Couch and every other respected dealer in proper, sensible English, put an immediate halt to the use of “an” before “historic.”
If you’re going to insist on this affront to every concept of good communication, why don’t you go all the way and say “an horse” or “an house” or “an history book,” etc?
Of course it’s practically impossible to find a college graduate who knows much about English, but this is no excuse for continuation of such a ridiculous corruption of our language. All that’s needed is for every publisher in the country to call his entire staff together and say: “Henceforth and from now on, anybody in this bunch who writes ‘an historic’ is going to be an has-been employee of this paper.” —(S.F. 11/01/62)