Friday, 23 March 2007

N A Chess, not En Haitch Ess

For years I have assumed that those who pronounce "H" as if it began with that letter were merely uneducated, but it seems that they might be Irish instead (or possibly as well).

I learned this from a piece in the Guardian by David McKie called Why I ate the Haitch mob. This covers the matter in some detail and notes regretfully that Haitch seems to be gaining ground, though, oddly, those who use it make an exception when it is used as an initial—few, one may hope, would refer to Prince Philip as Haitch R Haitch.

McKie also comments on the way in which a word begins defines the image of what it portrays: B suits words of abuse, for example, spit sounds nasty, and Aitch suggests something amenable, affable and amicable, while Haitch is harder, harsher, more hostile.

It is a pity that the distinguished speech therapist Carol no longer updates her blog, as I am sure she would have something interesting to say on this subject.


Ruth said...

As to Irish pronunciation, much more irritating than the wretched "haitch", is the pronunciation of the letter "R" as "Or". My name spelled out thus becomes: "Or, Yew, Tee, Haitch" - a source of some wincing distress to me.
I am also frequently offered the choice between a napple and a norange. No thanks; I'll have a banana.

Tony said...

To be honest, Ruth, I don't find the examples you give particularly wince-making: or for ar is just the Oirish accent which in general is pleasant to the ear, and you'd have to listen very carefully to distinguish between a napple and an apple.

Tony said...

Ruth: also remember that the re-interpreting of the division between words or syntactical units often takes place (in philology it is called metanalysis). Thus in ME a nadder (the snake) became an adder.

Ruth said...

Hard to explain, maybe, but very confusing aurally - it sounds like a choice, but it's a statement of fact. A little like the shake of the head in Bulgaria that means 'yes'- hard to get used to, when that means 'no' to (we) western Europeans.
Anyway,if you are going to be picky-picky, I would not abbreviate our gracious queen to anything but 'aitch em'.
So there.

Minty said...

haitch was also used a lot in Australia when I was growing up. I too thought at first that those using it were merely uneducated, but I noticed that a lot of my Catholic friends at university also used it. Of course Australia has many of Irish descent, and at that time (in the fifties and sixties, before there were a lot of European immigrants)I suppose most Catholics were Irish. I have subsequently lived in England and America, and so I'm not sure what the situation is today.

I looked on this site which is a fascinating project started several years ago by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to record Australian regional words into one database. I thought Tony might find it interesting. (But I didn't find haitch!)

Tony said...

Thank you, Minty, that's interesting. So we can blame the prevalence of this ridiculous pronunciation on the Pope and the Australians as well as the Irish. Meh.

I shall look at the ABC wordmap, though I fear it may tell me more about Australian regional words than I actually need to know.