After Hours

Geek Trivia: The quibble of the week for Dec. 2, 2008

This week's quibble comes from the Nov. 25, 2008 edition of Geek Trivia, "Home away from home(world)." TechRepublic member Deadly Ernest (among others) debated the Trivia Geek on an obscure point of modern linguistic evolution.

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week's Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the best quibble from our assembled masses and discuss it in a future edition of Geek Trivia.

This week's quibble comes from the Nov. 25, 2008 edition of Geek Trivia, "Home away from home(world)." TechRepublic member Deadly Ernest (among others) suggested I didn't know how to properly use an indefinite article:

"When I went to school I was taught you used the word 'a' before words unless they started with a vowel and then you used the word 'an' - so you buy a drill bit and an auger. I spotted in the first paragraph of page 2 today you wrote '...gives it an hospitable...' - at first I thought this may be a new teaching thing and asked my sister who teachers high school English - nope no change she knows of. So I now wonder if this is another of those regional things like how you people from the Americas can't spell words like colour or honour properly."

First of all, we Americans are simple people who don't care to support any more legacy letters in our words than absolutely necessary, so you can stuff the extra u in you -or words. Secondly, as the good folks over at Word Info will tell you, the choice of a versus an is somewhat discretionary in this case:

"Before 'h' in an unstressed or weakly stressed syllable, 'a' and an' are both used in writing (an historic, a historic) but an is more usual in speech, whether the 'h' is pronounced or not. This variation exists as a result of historical development; in unstressed and weakly stressed syllables, 'h' was formerly not pronounced in many words as it is currently pronounced by many people. A few words; such as, historic and (especially in England) hotel, are in transition, and may be found with either a or an. Apparently, people may now choose the article that suits their personal pronunciation preferences with several h words."

The simple fact is, I write by ear, so I invoked the an without thinking about it. Sorry to offend anyone's purist grammatical sensibilities but, alas, once again the evolution of language is on my side. Thanks for the quibble, and keep them coming!

Falling behind on your weekly Geek fix?

Check out the Geek Trivia archive, and catch up on the most recent editions of Geek Trivia.

Test your command of useless knowledge by subscribing to TechRepublic's Geek Trivia newsletter. Automatically sign up today!

About Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox