Definitely Indefinite


‘An Historical Note

‘He was sojourning at an hotel in Bond Street.’
Anthony Trollope

Here’s a hypothesis – or rather four separate but vaguely related hypotheses – on words beginning with h and an unstressed syllable (or why some people say an history, an hotel and an hypothesis):

  1. Once upon a time all educated people spoke French and so pronounced history, such as the French word histoire, with a silent h. Appropriately they gave it the article an.
  2. Some – less well-educated and therefore non-French-speaking – people spoke badly, were lazy about pronouncing their aitches, and so got into the habit of saying an ‘istory.
  3. Educated people disliked dropping aitches, so began to pronounce them in French words that traditionally used the article an: an history.
  4. People spoke too quickly, running together the words a and history, so that it became pronounced anistory. When they paused for breath, and separated things out a bit, they thought the word must be an history.

Note the inherent snobbishness of these hypotheses. It crops up a lot in the study of language.

But whatever the origins of the practice may be, the rule is: if the h is pronounced (as in history, hotel and hypothesis), the correct article is a; if it is not pronounced (as in honour and hour), use an.’

– Taggart. C., Wines. J.A. 2008. My Grammar And I (or should that be ‘me’?) London, Great Britain: Michael O’Mara (2011) p. 42-43

The Generosity of the Sufferer


‘”How odd,” said Mary, “that they should send two notes. Well, if Mr Harding becomes fashionable, the world is going to change.”

Her brother understood immediately the nature and intention of the peace-offering; but it was not so easy for him to behave well in the matter, as it was for Mr Harding. It is much less difficult for the sufferer to be generous than for the oppressor.’

– Trollope. A. 1855. The Warden London, Great Britain: Longmans, Green, and Co. p. 57-58

Eleanor Harding


‘She had no startling brilliancy of beauty, no pearly whiteness, no radiant carnation: she had not the majestic contour that rivets attention, demands instant wonder, and then disappoints by the coldness of its charms. You might pass Eleanor Harding in the street without notice, but you could hardly pass an evening with her and not lose your heart.’

– Trollope. A. 1855. The Warden London, Great Britain: Longmans, Green, and Co. p. 114

Fecundism


Fecundism is a political term which promotes sex for its most original purpose: having children. It is the politics of wilfully promoting high birth rate among a group for the sake of enlarging its numbers related to other groups and, consequently, its political influence.

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain

In practice, it is difficult to conclusively prove whether a group is conducting fecundism, or if high birth rate is natural consequence of a group’s beliefs or actions and would therefore exist even if it would not necessarily result in higher political influence.

“My first words, as I was being born […] I looked up at my mother and said, ‘that’s the last time I’m going up one of those.” – Stephen Fry

The Quiverfull movement, an Evangelical Christian group, openly acknowledge the practice of fecundism. They use Psalm 127:5 in its justification:

‘Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.’

Interestingly, in Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers, there is a character called mister Quiverful, a poor clergyman with no less than 14 children.

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