Writing for Business

Jul 31 2012   2:17PM GMT

Archaic speech and grammar

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

The conversation on Twitter wandered, as it will:

@KenCarpenter: I grew up with “AN historic …” but today’s @WSJ has “A historic …” / Weigh in, please, @editormark @tao_of_grammar

@EditorMark: It’s “an” before a vowel sound. Sound is key. Silent h: “an honor.” Sounded h: “a historic.

@sumarumi: I’m old-school RP — I drop the ‘h’ in historic, so it’s ‘an historic’ for me.

@tao_of_grammar: In the 15th century, used to be “an” before any singular noun. OE for “one.” bit.ly/93tQoS

@Mededitor: Also note “humble pie” stems from “an umble pie” (umbles were offal).

@tao_of_grammar: I love that stuff! (archaic grammar, not offal)


I do love that stuff. One of the most thrilling moments I had when I lived in Newfoundland  — and there really were some — was having an elderly gent in Bonavista ask my husband and me “Have ye (pronounced “yee”) come from town this day?” I remember from a linguistics course in the mid-nineties that in some Nfld. outports and one isolated area in Virginia, there were still people who spoke what was, essentially, Elizabethan English. I swear, people sometimes even looked like they’d stepped out of portraits from that period. Even in Gander, where we lived, anachronisms hung on. We’d visit the corner store early and often looking for the Globe and Mail. The clerks would often say something along the lines of “Oh, moy darling, it won’t be here till this evening.” We were initially puzzled but then learned that “this evening” translated to “any time past noon.”

I’m not sure that the tendency to call everyone “moy darling,” “my dear,” “my duck” and so on is Elizabethan — but I love it too.

Follow me on Twitter @tao_of_grammar

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