Just. No. Never has a more hideous phrase been uttered so frequently and with such certainty.
‘An’ exists to allow a better flow to words beginning with a vowel, or a vowel sound. So where you’d say ‘a banana’, ‘an banana’ wouldn’t be appropriate, and likewise you’d say ‘an orange’ rather than ‘a orange’.
I’m being patronising. Everyone knows this rule, right? So why the insistent, smug, intolerable use of the phrase ‘an historic’?! I know the type who use it; the political journalist attempting to sound clever and in control of the British language (well, okay, the person I’m trying to be – but with worse knowledge of language!), and failing drastically. Its use is everywhere. I’ve even seen it on the BBC! But it’s wrong, oh so wrong.
Do I really need to go into why? I think I will have to. Okay: many words beginning with ‘h’ are pronounced with a silent ‘h’, meaning the word is spoken as if the ‘h’ is not present. Example: “an hour.” This is appropriate because the ‘h’ is ignored, and the word is pronounced similarly to ‘our’. In French most, if not all, words beginning with ‘h’ miss out the ‘h’, which has carried on in part to English but on the whole we pronounce our ‘h’s. Words like ‘hospital’, ‘horrific’ and, of course, ‘historic’ have begun to be pronounced with the ‘h’. So for this reason ‘historic’ is not pronounced beginning with a vowel sound and so ‘an’ is unecessary. It would be like saying: “We’re going to find an hospital,” or: “There’s been an horrific crash!” Sounds hideous.
I deeply apologise for the condescending nature of this post, but I see this grotesque mutilation of the English Language so often that there isn’t much left my wits can take. I can imagine one day I’ll snap and begin a mass information campaign, dropping leaflets from planes across the English-speaking world and petitioning parliament to bring back the capital punishment for offenders. So please, next time you need to say this phrase which is overused anyway, just think. For my sanity.