Our Poor, Neglected H

And now for one of the most misunderstood letters in the English language…

Rye Regular

Accused of being HIGH-BROW or even HAUGHTY, the use of an H is at least controversial. Some groups of English speakers do an automatic delete, and for sure the French do. We can’t blame the use of H and TH on the Norman invaders. Lately I heard a Cockney speaker explaining that if you want to sound like them, “Get rid of the H’s. Don’t need ’em.” Ditto with the TH’s. “Oo needs an H? Ged along royt wew wivoud ’em, we can.”

The other linguistic foible is to stick them in where they don’t belong. “H’Irvin h’Armstrong was here today. He wanted to h’ask you h’if you’d gotten his message?”

But H is here to stay, because we need to HALF– so many things, and because it starts out so many short everyday words we can’t do without:
HURT + HEAL
HOLD + HURL
HELP + HINDER
HIM + HER

Doing some research on the origins of our letter H, I discovered that our H words are mostly Germanic in origin, that their roots go back to a common Indo-European language, and they mostly began with a k or kh sound.
Here, Who, How < kho
Hind (deer) < Kemi
Hip < kheup
Heart < kadia or kerd
Hearth < kherthaz
Help < kelp

The Japanese are fond of their H, giving us words like HONCHO and HAIKU, and who knows how many more if the current linguistic melange continues.

Rye Regular

Dorothy Sayers, in her book, THE FIVE RED HERRINGS, waxed merry with various accents and dropped or added aitches in a realistic way. The book was published in 1931 and she died in 1957, so I’m hoping I’ll be okay reprinting this bit.

Investigating the suspicious death of Mr Campbell, Inspector Macpherson called on Mr. Gowan. When the haughty English butler opened the door, the Inspector asked to speak to the gentleman.
“Mr Gowan is h’out. He’s gone to London.”
In his Broad Scots accent, the inspector explains…
“I will tell ye, wi’oot circumlocution, that there is mair than a suspeecion that the puir gentleman was murdered.”
“So I h’understand.”
“Your name is Halcock, is’t no?”
The butler corrected him. “H’alcock,” he said, reprovingly.
“H, a, double l?”
“There is no h’aitch in the name, young man. H’ay is the first letter, and there is h’only one h’ell.”

Then the Inspector goes on to question Hammond, Mr Gowan’s chauffeur, described as a small, perky man, mongrel in speech, but betraying a strong streak of the fundamental cockney.

“Did ye drive Mr. Gowan onywhere on Monday last?”
“Drove ‘im ter Dumfries. Mr. Alcock comes down when I was ‘avin’ me supper, and says Mr. Gowan wanted the saloon round at 8 o’clock ter tike ‘im ter Dumfries. And I says, ‘Right-oh!’ I says, ‘an’ I can pick up them there pitchers at the same time.’ That’s what I says and that’s what I done.”

As I understand Cockney, this would have sounded like, ” ‘At’s Royt. Drove ‘im ter Dumfries. Mr. Alcock comes down when Oy was ‘avin’ me suppah and says Mr. Gowan wanted the saloon round at oyt o’clock… ‘at’s wha’ Oy says and ‘at’s wha I dun.”

(The WordPress Spell-checker doesn’t like this colloquial post. There are red lines everywhere!)

14 thoughts on “Our Poor, Neglected H

  1. Funny old letter, H. It even goes missing when you least expect it – posh folk refer to a hotel as ‘an ‘otel for instance!

    My pet hate is the way young people nowadays pronounce the letter H, ‘haich’ Grrr!

    I’m doing my best to keep it alive by starting my surname with it – don’t anybody dare leave it off!

    After my muse, my best writing buddy is Grammarly. Without it, most of my blog would be indecipherable! (I couldn’t have spelt that without its help!)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, the H does have a rough time of it. After all, when you say “bee” for the letter B and “cee” for the letter C, why not “haich” or (“haych”) for the H. But no, we leave it off. But can’t say “ache” because it gets left out there, too, and toothache sounds like booth cake — at least here in Canada. 🙂
      Thanks for your comment — and I can see why you’d protest “Mr ‘illman”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this post about letter H! I heard a Yank who pronounced the letter as “haych” but it was because of his speech impediment. Everyone always asked him where he was from, expecting “England,” or “Australia” but nope, he grew up in the old US of A.

    Liked by 1 person

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