(h)erbs and (h)aitches

Just as it makes Americans giggle to hear English people say reckon, I've elicited numerous gasps and giggles with my American pronunciation of herb (more like urb). In fact, I've had to take up saying it the English way, with the /h/, so as to maintain any kind of credibility as an educated person.

[Update, 14 June 2006: As is often the case, Americans have the older form of the word--the British used to say 'erb too. It just happened to be mentioned in the Guardian's Weekend magazine this week. See Michael Quinion's World Wide Words for more...]

[Update, 3 September 2014: I've now done a proper post on herb.]

A common response to an American pronunciation of herb is: "Are you a Cockney, then?" Dropping aitches is a definite marker of lower social class--and these days it's fairly rare. In fact, aitches get inserted sometimes in the name of the letter, i.e. haitch. This is heard in the semi-humorous admonision to not 'drop your haitches' (and thus sound 'common'), but is heard unironically in many people's everyday speech, although it is not considered to be 'standard' usage. The story is that it's the Irish pronunciation, and I've read in various places that haitch marks Catholics in Northern Ireland and the Catholic-educated in Australia. I've noticed no such associations here, and neither have friends of mine, though one did suggest that it might be a marker of region rather than religion here. Indeed, my haitch-saying friend is from Liverpool, whose dialect (Scouse) is influenced by Irish immigrants.

As long as I'm talking about herbs...there aren't many that differ in name between the US and UK. Americans call the green part of the coriander plant cilantro, while the British call it coriander. Americans use coriander to refer to the spice made by drying and grinding the plant's fruit. Presumably the difference exists because Americans were introduced to the herb in Mexican cooking, whereas the British know it from South/Southeast Asian cooking. Once, reading a British recipe in Texas, I got confused. I knew that British coriander wasn't meant to refer to the powder in my coriander jar, but could only remember that the American translation also started with C. So I put a whole lot of cumin into my chicken soup. I ate about three bites before I decided that there was nothing to do but toss it out.

Oregano differs in pronunciation, with Americans saying oREGano and the British saying oreGANo. In South Africa (where I first started picking up 'commonwealth English'), they use oreGANum.

As for other herbs and spices, I have been asked "Why do Americans put cinnamon on EVERYTHING?" I can only answer (ignoring the hyperbole): "Because it's tasty."


  1. I, too, discovered it a few days ago, thanks to your self-promotion on ADS-L. Also enjoying it immensely.

  2. Thanks so much for the compliments/interest.

    You're right, Norma, about the corn--which in the form found on pizza is always called sweetcorn (rather than maize).

    While I'd never order it on pizza myself, I've become used to it...

    There's a lot of anti-pizza feeling about here--that it's junk food. I'd like to know how a pizza is really any different, nutritionally speaking, from a cheese and pickle sandwich!

    Further note on the haitch front--another friend says she associates it with Birmingham--which again makes it regional rather than religious, but there does seem to be a (working) class aspect to it too. Undoubtedly there's something on it in some style guides--but they're at the office and I'm not. Perhaps an update some other time.

  3. I recall the grandfather of a close college friend of mine, who came from a working-class area of New York City, always sounding the 'h' in herb. Is this unusual?

    I'm also really enjoying your blog.

  4. Well, I've never heard a non-anglicis(z)ed American pronouncing the 'h' in herb, but who knows...

  5. I forgot to mention that US and UK pronunciations of basil are different too. US = 'bayzil'. UK='bazil' (with the 'a' pronounced as in bat. I'd always pronounced the name in the British way, but the herb in the American way--but presumably this is because I've never met an American named Basil! I probably first heard the name on Fawlty Towers.

  6. My boyfriend (from northeastern US, predominately NYC/New Jersey and Delaware) has always said "oreGANo" and "bazil" yet says "herb" sans h. Being a Louisianian, I find this absolutely adorable and tease him constantly. Of course, I say /a~ni:z/ for "anise," so I guess he has just as much to tease me with as far as seasoning our food goes. :)

  7. Just an observation from a native speaker of British English:

    "As long as I'm talking about herbs" strikes me as unusual. I'd have said something like "While I'm talking about herbs". Is this an American English usage?

    1. Yes that’s how we Americans say it. As long as I’m talking about herbs….

  8. I've asked Better Half and The Postman, and both say that it's a perfectly natural thing to say in British English as well. So, not American?

  9. Regarding saying the name of the letter as 'haitch' versus 'aitch'. Australians - many of the ones I've met, anyway - are taught to say 'haitch', whilst New Zealanders are taught 'aitch'. It could vary from state to state, though, as each Australian state has a different educational system.

    Oregano/Oreganum. In New Zealand you hear both. (pronounced the British way), but on the packets of dried herbs it tends to be 'Oregano'. Oreganum refers mostly to the plant you have in the garden.

  10. I think Americans who are conscious of their Italian heritage are likely to say oreGAno.

    But this American puts tarragon on everything, not cinnamon. Why? It's tasty!

  11. Contrary to what you've read, whether people in Australia say "haitch" is not at all associated with whether they have a Catholic education.

    Well, there may be a small correlation in a purely statistical sense, but not a particularly strong one, and there is definitely no widespread perception in Australia that such a correlation exists.

    As for pizza toppings, I've never heard of sweetcorn on pizza before! The only thing I can think of that would stand out linguistically to a British or American reading an Australian pizza menu is that what you call "peppers", we call "capsicum".

  12. lexi: "As long as I'm talking about herbs" strikes me as unusual. I'd have said something like "While I'm talking about herbs". Is this an American English usage?
    lynne: I've asked Better Half and The Postman, and both say that it's a perfectly natural thing to say in British English as well. So, not American?

    I'm suspicious. Did you put it to the postman and your OH in context? To me "As long as..." means "Provided that...". Yes, it's a perfectly natural thing to say, for example, "(I do say bayzil) as long as I'm talking about herbs (but for the man's name I say bazzil)" - but I agree with lexi that it sounds odd to use that construction for "While I'm on the subject of herbs".

  13. The way she used "as long as I'm talking about herbs" sounds perfectly natural to me (in both the context you provided and her original context), so maybe it is an AmE thing.

    I automatically understand it to mean "provided we're discussing herbs" as you had said, OR "while we're on the topic of herbs" as she had originally used it.

  14. As a resident and 'product' of Belfast there is a limited truth to the Catholic Haitch and Protestant Aitch assertion. I have heard that (we) Catholics say haitch as a remnant of the pronunciations of the Irish (Gaeilge) language but (shamefully) am unable to attest to that fact, being less than fluent with my last lessons attended around 15 years ago at school. Regardless of the overall truth and origins, more frightening is the truth that some people would happily administer a kicking over the pronunciation in this part of the world.

    I have actually found myself feeling uncomfortable in my own pronunciation (which incidentally is haitch) on occasion, not in fear of my own physical wellbeing, but rather for fear of making others in the minority, in a given gathering, feel uncomfortable such is the sensitivity around such (minor) issues here - we can all only wish for the prevalence of reason and intelligence - not to make us sound more backwards than anyone else - lets be honest, turn on the news and everywhere you look hatred and persecution over minor differences abounds, pity I personally love to meet those who aren't 'like me' in so far as any HUMAN BEING can be different from their brother or sister.

    Oh and the whole 'erbs pronunciation always irritated me - it turns out that it may be the correct pronunciation given the origins of the word - ah well one up for the yanks!

  15. I'm an Aussie living (for the past five years) in the US (greater Boston) and who has also spent ten years in the UK. I was taught to say "aitch" but heard that "haitch" was common amongst Catholics because of being taught by the Irish in Catholic schools. (However my BH was educated in a Catholic school and definitely says "aitch".)

    But why isn't the letter called "haitch"?

    To my ears dropping the aitch on "herbs" here (US) sounds pretentious, as does "fill-ay" for "fillet", where I pronounce the tee.

    Great blog! This is the first time I've ever posted a comment.

  16. I think the things that irks me most about American dialect is the fact that there is little pattern to the way they choose to pronounce certain things.

    Here are some examples.

    Americans say ERBS instead of HERBS. I didn't know if they pronounced HOTEL as OTEL or HOTEL, yet in all cases precede the word with AN rather than A.

    A poster commented above that it's "one up" to the Americans as they may pronounce the word 'herb' correctly, given its origin.

    May I just point out, at this juncture, that as an educated Brit, I am fully aware of the native pronunciation of French words. If I was inserting 'herb' into a French sentece, I would of course have omitted the haich. As I would with 'hotel'. But these are two words that exist within the ENGLISH dictionary, so their parlance can be uttered in English without the need to 'set' the word into it's origin tongue. Therefore the CORRECT way to say such words, is to pronounce the aitch. Unless you're French and speaking French at the time.

    Contrarily, if the Americans are seen as lingually clever by their seeming 'correct native pronunciation' of the above words, the pattern ends right here. Their dialect over Spanish words bears no correctness to their country of origin. Las Vegas should be pronounced LASS VEY-GAS, and not LORSS VEY-GAS. This occurs in their pronunciations of 'Miami' (MY-AMMEE instead of MEE-YAMI), Santa Barbara (BAR-BERUH instead of BAR-BAR-RA) and Los Alamos (LOSS ALAMOES instead of LOSS ALAMOSS). I know most of these are typical of the elongated American A but it's annoying and incorrect all the same. The same goes for their pronunciation of 'pasta', correctly PASS-TA. They of course pronounce this PARSS-TA, a trend (which disturbs me to say) has infiltrated commoners who aspire to higher echelons here in Britian.

    The bottom line is, we either use the correct anglified form of a previously non-indegenous language, as in HOTEL with aitch pronounced and HERB with aitch pronounced, or we speak the word as correctly as possible as the country of its origin would, if the word doesn't have a correct anglified form, so we say MEE-YAMI and not MY-AMMEE, PASS-TA and not PARS-TA, etc, etc. That's because we are doing correctly.

    1. I know it's been years, but your smug attitude about the "right" way to speak irks me. Tell me, in all your British superiority, how do you pronounce "hour", "honest", and "honor"? Certainly someone learned like yourself doesn't drop the "h" in these circumstances either?

  17. Anon: BrE is no more consistent. For instance, why pronounce 'ballet' and 'beret' without the 't' at the end, but 'fil(l)et' and 'claret' with them?

    The answer, like the answer to the 'herb' question, has to do with when and how the words came into English. They've all been anglici{s/z)ed to certain degrees, but there is variation in the extent of the anglici{s/z}ation.

    I must note, though, that the tone of your note is pretty far on the 'not civil' side of the 'comment acceptibility continuum'. You're not doing your argument many favo(u)rs by presenting it in that tone, especially since it is marred by some misrepresentations of the facts. Let's go back to having a polite discussion of dialectal differences now.

  18. In reply to the most recent "anonymous" thus far:

    I live in the US, and have never met anyone who says "lorss" vegas or "parss-ta".

    Also, I agree with Lynne's comment. The entry did sound pretty condescending. The random dropping of the aitch doesn't make much sense, but neither do a lot of the things we do with he English language.

  19. Anonymous @ "26 October, 2008 20:06":
    Please don't make me ashamed to be a British English speaker!

  20. Sophie,

    Don't worry. I would hope everyone here knows better than to hold the opinion of one snarky responder against the rest of his peers.

    Plus, though none of my /living/ relatives is from Britain, it /is/ part of my heritage too. Yay for being an "USAmerican Mutt"! LOL

  21. Thanks, Brit!

    BTW, I found it amusing that Anon's "phonetic" spellings of American pronunciations work only with a non-rhotic, British accent. PARSS-TA, for example.

  22. I read not too long ago the results of a survey on national taste preferences.

    Americans use more cinnamon in more foods than any other nation.

    The British have the record for mint-flavoured things.

    When it comes to fruit pies and other fruity sweet foods, the British prefer theirs tarter and more strongly tasting of fruit than any other country.

  23. FWIU, every written initial h was dropped at one point; many, but not all, were restored from the spelling, somewhat inconsistently in different countries.

    Haitch, on the other hand, is hypercorrection. The name of the letter never began with h in Latin, where it was aha. When h was lost everywhere in the Romance languages, the name of the letter changed to aka, which became ache [atS@] in Old French and [eitS] in Modern English.

  24. I wonder what the condescending anon above makes of the words "hour" and "honour" in this context? British English omits the 'h' from these words which, acccording to his flawed argument, makes British English just as inconsistent as American English. Also, if pronouncing the 'h' is the CORRECT way, then how would he explain this inconsistency? It would have to have something to do with when the words entered the English language or their language of origin... However he's already dismissed these points as inconsequential. Hmm, guess there is nothing one can do about ignorant people who are convinced they're right! Cheers everyone - enjoy the blog immensely.

  25. Those Spanish words are pronounced differently in different parts of the country. The same name will not be pronounced the same here in California as it is in Texas. They've been interpreted by different American accents. We can't really pronounce "San Jose" properly, and don't feel much need to. (In California, that's "San Hosay," or sometimes "sannosay." I think it's different in Texas.") And "Vallejo" somehow ended up "Va-layo." No offence to the late governor, of course.

    Oh...and, in spite of what I was taught in elementary school, I've never known an American writer to prefer "an" in front of "hospital" or "hotel." I consider that a pretty clear mark of an English writer.

    And why am I arguing with someone who thinks I'm a hick, anyway? My rural California upbringing is not something I've ever been ashamed of.

  26. It really bothers me when someone [from Britain] bad-mouths the American dialect. It has been around 300 years since we came here - of course the language will change. In some ways, it is separate and distinct from the language of Britain (and Australia, South Africa, etc. etc.).

    As for An versus A, it is actually correct to always use "an" before a word starting with an H (+vowel). I only discovered this a few years ago and it is strange to say things that way, but it really is the correct way, no matter whether or not the H is pronounced or if it "sounds right." Personally, I feel that the linguistic community should change this and make "a" acceptable when H is pronounced ("an" is unacceptable and unnecessary before a word starting with a consonant).

    As far as pronunciation in general goes, English does have very strict rules regarding it. There are just a lot of them and it would be almost impossible to know when to apply them, as there are so many conditions to most of them. Someone (I don't remember who or where to find it) once wrote a computer program that takes a set of given English words (numbering in the several thousand), runs them through a complicated set of pronunciation rules in a specific order, and gives you the pronunciation in IPA. It was geared toward the American dialect but it actually worked over 80% of the time I believe.

    Oh, and saying "as long as" sounds perfectly acceptable in the US for what you meant by it. I don't know anyone who would find that construct nonsensical or even unusual.

  27. Hi ff6m,

    Welcome to the discussion--I see you've been making it through the back catalog(ue)!

    One thing that I think needs pointing out is that there is no one making up or legislating the rules for English. We don't have an academy that rules on which things we should and shouldn't say. All we have are traditions and fashions, really, and the traditions and fashions in some places and amongst some groups are different from those in others.

    And whether or not a person finds a particular expression clear and understandable has as much to do with where they were raised and what they're used to as with the actual logic of the expression. English just isn't very logical. It's usable because we use it a lot and get used to particular expressions meaning particular things. And that, I would say, is part of its charm!

  28. I was taught at school (UK) that where the H was silent..hour,for example..it would alays be preceded by 'an'. In the case of 'hotel' we took it from the french where the h is not pronounced,thus 'an hotel'.Although pronunciation of 'hotel' has changed, the written construct has stayed the same.
    Sadly by the time my 20- something children were educated, grammar had all but been banished from the curriculum in comprehensive schools.

  29. Just on the 'an hotel' thing. If you ngram it, it's much more of a British usage than an American one, and its use has been dramatically decreasing since about 1940.


    In American English, meanwhile, 'an hotel' hardly even registers.

    Secondly, both The Oxford Dictionaries better writing section and Fowler (1965) say that if you pronounce the initial 'h', which we nearly all do, it's pretty illogical to precede it with 'an'. I think Oxford says something about trying to have your cake and eat it too. To me it just sounds pretentious.

    And as an 'educated Brit', I regret that another 'educated Brit' doesn't really seem to 'get' the spirit of your blog. Mind you, to manage two different spellings of the letter 'h' in the same paragraph, and perhaps more astonishingly, different at both ends, is quite an achievement.

    Oh, and lastly, thanks for your tweet a couple of weeks ago.

  30. The BBC loved to use the phrase "an historic moment" in news coverage when I lived in Britain. Needless to say, te "h" of "historic" was pronounced emphatically.

    This managed to be pretentious in multiple ways, not only linguistically but also in pontificating on the historical significance of an event that had only just occurred.

  31. Anon (you know which one) made me laugh rather a lot. These pretentious people always manage to have basic errors while lecturing the rest of us on what is "correct". Other than the weirdly various spellings of "aitch", anon couldn't even get "its" right, using an apostrophe for a possessibe. I was actually considering a post pointing out their incorrectnesses, but decided they would just carry on with their nose in the air and insist everyone else was uneducated anyway.

  32. My education was quite consistent - A before a consonant, AN before a vowel. Since H is sometimes a consonant and sometimes silent, it follows that if you pronounce the H, you don't use AN. A hotel, a hospital, an hour, an honour, an aitch. 'Haitch' wasn't actually taught, but the class concensus was that it was wrong - the one guy in the class who said 'haitch' got the mick taken.

  33. The Italians pronounce it as the Americans do, with the accent on the second syllable. It's spelled 'origano' in Italian.

  34. In reply James Helgeson's comment just above: Ah, that explains the pronunciation, which for me (American with Italian heritage) has an ih, not an eh, in the second syllable.

    More generally, I'm surprised by the comments about being educated in "an" versus "a". Didn't we all (native English speakers) learn that when learning to speak, before are education began? Oh, I remember being told the difference between the two words. But I wouldn't call that being educated. More like, hearing explicitly something I already knew, along with learning the spelling that matches those words I already knew.

  35. Mitt Romney's latest political ad against Newt Gingrich is interesting. It quotes Gingrich claiming (ludicrously) to have been lavishly compensated by Freddie Mac as "a historian". The announcer then says sarcastically:

    "AN historian?"

    (my emphasis).


    It's only 30 seconds long.

    Las Vegas should be pronounced LASS VEY-GAS, and not LORSS VEY-GAS. This occurs in their pronunciations of 'Miami' (MY-AMMEE instead of MEE-YAMI), Santa Barbara (BAR-BERUH instead of BAR-BAR-RA) and Los Alamos (LOSS ALAMOES instead of LOSS ALAMOSS). The same goes for their pronunciation of 'pasta', correctly PASS-TA. They of course pronounce this PARSS-TA,

    what the heck is this anonymous guy talking about? I am an American and I have NEVER said LORSS VEY-GAS it is Loss VayGus, Nor have I ever referred to Pasta as Parss-ta, it is pahstah. As for Miami I say it the way he does. not sure about Los Alamos, neither sound right to me, I would say the alamo:)

  37. @Mindy

    Mr/s "parss-ta" Anonymous is letting his/her (let's assume "his") non-rhoticity show.

    While not defending the rant element in his post (I don't think we're here to tell others how they "should" pronounce their own language/dialect), I can at least explain his attempted phonetic spelling as a reflection of the fact that Anon. speaks a variety of English (known as non-rhotic) where the letter gets pronounced only before a vowel: this has the effect of making, say, "parse" and "pass" rhyme (both pronounced "pahss" in the case of so-called RP British English).

    So, in writing "parss-ta" he is, in fact, agreeing with you that you say the word as "pahstah". It's a trap speakers of non-rhotic British English often fall into: using "ar" to represent "ah" -- owing to the fact, to give another example, that they pronounce "far" as "fah" in "Is it far?" (although forgetting that they put the r back, because of the following vowel, in "Is it far away?").

    All of that said, it is true (though I'm not criticizing the fact!) that Americans do pronounce the originally Italian word with a "long" a (as in "ah, yes" while Britons say it with a "short" one: "passta" (first "a" as in "cat").

    I think that has to do with the American tendency to use "ah" for "a" in all words seen to be foreign. Compare American English "Vietnahm" with British English "Vietnamm". Or, to take another food item (taco): AE tah-ko, BE tack-o.

    I know that the "a" in Italian "pasta" and in Spanish "taco" is in fact neither the American "ah" nor the British "a(t)", but to us Britons they do SOUND -- probably because they are short sounds -- far more like "a(t)" than "ah" (which tends to be quite a long sound in British English).

  38. Thanks Kevin, I did not think of the non rhotic aspect. Although it stillseems strange that when trying to prononce in letters anon would type th r if it is not part of the sound.

    On the subject of Italian Pasta pronunciation, I live in a prodominatly Italian town, and know several who are from the old contry and they definatly say it pahstah.

    As for Taco, I would not know about the spanrards, but would the Mexicans say tahko also.

    Fun little fact My Italian cousin is marred to a Mexican.

    Again, Thanks for your insight Kevin.

  39. Kevin

    this has the effect of making, say, "parse" and "pass" rhyme (both pronounced "pahss" in the case of so-called RP British English).

    The only RP pronunciation of parse I've ever heard is PAHZ. In John Well's Longman Pronunciation Dictionary PAHZ is given as the main pronunciation and PAHS as an secondary alternative.

    If you asked me to PAHS a sentence, I couldn't begin to guess what you meant.

    There's a pair with similar spelling that do rhyme in a particularly old-fashioned style of RP. My mother completely lost her Welsh accent when she invested in elocution lessons.

    (They paid off. Without any qualifications she stayed in well-paid work in the 1930's — work where a regional accent would have ruled her out.)

    With a perfectly straight face, she would revere to someone as a silly ass meaning a donkey but sounding like something else.

  40. @kevin, @David Crosbie,

    A minimal pair for nonrhotic, BATH-broadening accents is

    calve - carve


    aunt - aren't

    (although aunt has the "broad" pronunciation in some accents that don't generally have BATH-broadening).

  41. @kevin, @David Crosbie,

    A minimal pair for nonrhotic, BATH-broadening accents is

    calve - carve


    aunt - aren't

    (although aunt has the "broad" pronunciation in some accents that don't generally have BATH-broadening).

  42. vp

    This is fun. Some are quite dull such as:
    alms ~arms
    spa ~ spar
    Ta! ~ tar
    Bah! ~ bar

    But others form agreeably unlikely pairs:

    palmer ~ Parma
    calmer ~ karma
    balmy ~ barmy
    — one that really can cause confusion
    ma's ~ Mars
    Mali ~ Marley
    Mahdi ~ mardy

    There's also the South African laager mentality. OK, I never seriously believed it was the result of drinking too much German-style beer. But I did — wrongly — assume that the circle of wagons was the same sort of safe container as the lager used for secure storage in brewing.

  43. Just a parsing fancy...

    Oo-er, David (the r is silent BTW) -- it looks like I've been pronouncing "parse" incorrectly all my life! ...or at least during the 50+ years since I last had to parse sentences at school.

    British dictionaries do give the "pahz" pronunciation that you (and very other British speaker?) use, American ones give "parss".

    It's odd that when I was at school (in England) "parse" rhymed with "sparse", or is that just me losing it?

  44. David, re your

    palmer ~ Parma

    A parallel to this is the way so many (non-rhotic) Britons are convinced they ate "Palma ham" while on holiday in Mallorca.

  45. Johan Fägerskiöld29 March, 2013 14:27

    It is interesting about haitches - In past generations, in the islands outside Stockholm, it was part of the local accent to insert "h" in some words starting with wovels, (not with "h") - and strip other words of their leading "h". It somehow probably worked out to the same number of "h", just in different words.

    Some south Indian accents probably have a similar issue, would use the haitch pronounciation frequently. They have a special way of pronouncing "A" - like "Yaie".

    Russian speakers seem to replace leading "H" with "G", in most foreign words.

    I bet there are a few similar local habits in many other countries as well.

    Thanks for teaching me about Cilantro.

    And I am sure that the Palma Ham was not from Parma, if at all they can make it locally.

    1. The dropping of H and adding of H is common for many French Canadian English speakers of English as a second language. It is quite common to hear someone remark about the "hair conditioning being to I" or how their "air is getting frizzy in the moist hair outside."

  46. My mother, British and in her 80s, often says "yarbs" for "herbs". I'm not sure if she thinks this is correct, or if she thinks it's a Sussex word (it might well be). She also frequently says "yowes" for "ewes" (female sheep), which I pronounce as "yous".

  47. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmlyxqVxVxQ&noredirect=1

  48. In reply to anonymous on 26 October, 2008 20:06:

    I have lived almost my entire life in the western US, and the last few years spread over the western 2/3 and southeast quarter of the country, and the only place I have ever encountered any of the Americanisms you denounced so rudely was in Indiana (where, in particular, r's get inserted in a surprising number of words: people there warsh their supper dishes).

    (Aside: has there been a blog entry on the names of meals? Lunch, dinner, supper, et cetera?)

    Perhaps these oddities are more common in the northeast of the country; I've spent very little time there.

    Aside from the near-universal NON-insertion of r's in Spanish-origin names, you might also want to consider that Americans get their Spanish pronunciations from Mexican-Spanish, Cuban-Spanish, and Puerto-Rican-Spanish rather than Spanish-Spanish. Further, when a word is lifted from one language and transplanted in another, it often gets modified according to the norms and standards of its new home. "Pasta" in Italy is an Italian word, but in the US it's an English word of Italian origin.

  49. Don Edwards

    (Aside: has there been a blog entry on the names of meals? Lunch, dinner, supper, et cetera?)

    See high tea.

  50. BrE, mid 60s, Scot. very late again, still fascinated by old posts. I definitely perceive a fairly dramatic rise in the use of the haitch pronunciation, and it often seems to be used by the same people who use whilst instead of while. Any statistics to back this up?

  51. native rhotic Brit speaker, proscriptivist, but nice with it...
    ’t’s funny to think some Americans should be amused by the Br.Eng. usage of “reckon”. I wasn’t previously aware of that. I’ve come to use it in my speech in the last couple of decades, but not before. It would’ve sounded odd to me, contrived.
    This thread exposes lots of stuff, perhaps, primarily the proscriptive vs descriptive view of acceptable norms of speech. My position is that of someone who likes norms, but protests at being called a grammar “Nazi”, a ludicrous and insulting (to the victims) devaluation of the word.
    There’s no way I’d object to ‘erb/s, given its origin, although it sounds quirky and odd to me, but I can’t help thinking that the pronunciation “bayzil” initially may have sprung from the mis-pronunciation by a non-native English speaker and like bad money displacing good, spread that way. There’s no logic to my distaste for the pronunciation, it just causes me to suck in breath through my closed teeth, is all. (Note affected U.S. folksy use of “is all”). Likewise Eye-raq and Eye-ran seem to me the product of mistake.
    Or’egano vs ore’gano, I live in Spain and use both pronunciations, so far never heard ore’gayno (eek!).
    To the Anon who complained about lazyfication of Spanish place-names in the States, I have no sympathy. The Spanish mouth uses more muscle in forming the vowels, of which there are five and five only, but relaxes the mouth for the consonants, as the words are awfully long and otherwise the sentences would take forever. The English mouth is lazy and stress-timed, rather than syllable-timed, so I reckon Murrification is to be expected.
    Haitch vs aitch: brought up in the Scottish education system, I heard some haitch-speakers occasionally, not aware of the Irish connection; I use aitch but could be persuade haitch makes more sense. It could be hypercorrection, like my gran in Darlington in the ’60’s saying “butcher”, she pronounced it buch as in such or much -er, as I suspect she believed the bootcher pronunciation was a Northernism, and she wanted to sound proper. I can’t remember gran’pa saying it that way or correcting her, maybe he thought it better just to stay schtum..(is that a Britishism from Yiddish or German or do Murricans say it too?)
    An/a historic: I use both, probably half-omitting the h when I use an. An hotel: never, always a.
    Oh, and another thing, I grew up saying soot for suit, my father always said syoot. New is pronounced noo in some parts of East Anglia and I’ve heard moozik too, although the latter is prob’ly thought of as more hick than is noo. My point is, language changes, Brits never used to “fill out” forms; that would be reserved for a body-proud woman in a tight dress, medication used to be medicine. Okay…life is change…but fawning neophilia is a bit ickky, and Brits we tend to slavishly pick up the Americanisms forgetting that English use is International, and there’s (is that ok to say, for euphony?) a lot of non U.S. English speakers out there.
    I disagree with this b/w rhotic/non-rhotic distinction. I hear it a range. To my ear, modern Southern English (Lily Allen) sounds alien. In the rest of the UK there’s degrees of narrowing of the mouth gap, especially in Scotland, and it irks me to read the IPA codes for UK pron. as being 100% non-rhotic. I do not concur. I was struck in a Californian McDonald’s at the rhoticity of the background murmur of conversation, distinctly more than I’m used to: why then do Americans say err for error and meer for mirror? Doesn’t fit in with their otherwise perfect command of the syllable r. “Eeee, there’s nowt so queer as folk” as my mum (from Lancashire) used to say, (not “folks” BTW, the word is “folk” ok?). She also used to say “the whole world’s queer bar thee and me, and even thee’s a little queer”. Words change…I’d like to say “gay” reinstated too..


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)