Sex, drugs and Martha Stewart

Posted by Word Camel on January 10, 2002

In Reply to: Sex, drugs and Martha Stewart posted by The Fallen on January 10, 2002

: : : : : Dropping H's from the front of words is generally considered a 'no-no'. It caused me years of frustration in the UK where I searched in vain for the location of places like 'atfield, and scowered the dictionary looking for the word 'ump - as in "She got the 'ump because we were late."

: : : : : Now that I am back on the other side of the pond, I am bothered by the word 'herb'. In American English it is considered proper to drop the 'H' from the front of the word. It is also dropped from the word herbage. And yet - and this is where it gets weird - it is not properly dropped from the words, 'herbaceous', 'herbal' or 'herbalist'.

: : : : : Does anyone have any idea why the 'h' is dropped or why the inconsistency? I'm also interested to know whether there are any other words in American English that follow the same principle? I can't think of any.

: : : : It is not dropped from the pronunciation of the word herbicide, either. On the other hand, contrary to your observation, the beginning 'h' sound is often dropped from the word herbal, at least in my experience here in the midwestern U.S.

: : The US being such a melee of cultural/linguistic influences, I wouldn't be surprised if this had something to do with the fact that in some european languages 'h's are silent. E.g. in spanish, h's are silent, and the english 'h' sound is denoted by a 'j'. e.g. 'hola' - pronounced ola, 'joder' pronounced Hod-air.
: : Added to the ways h's and f's are almost interchangable at the start of words - 'hierro/fierro - iron , horno/forno - oven' - and we've got some serious confusion for non-natives!

: ICoincidentally enough, I've also just come across aside the bizarre US "an 'erb" (but never 'Erbie Hancock or 'Erbie the lovebug). The only other occasion I have heard "'erb" used was by a Jamaican expatriate to refer to his private marijuana stash, but since it was Martha Stewart that I heard using the word with that dropped h pronunciation, and since she is apparently the bastion of all that is good and clean-living in the USA and not renowned for her Rastafarian tendencies, I doubt that she was looking for anything to fill her bong.

: However, let's not forget thise mutually agreed silent English h's, as in honour, honest, and so on. To make matters worse, there's even the pseudo-quasi-semi-demi-hemi-silent h, as with "an historic occasion"... no wonder we're so good at confusing the Hell out of non-native speakers.

: By the way, Alex, was "joder" the best example you could come up with? I almost blushed :)

I'd forgotten honesty and honour - never a good sign.

I'm not sure I completely buy the theory about cultural influences though. If this were the case, I'd expect to see more words in English dropping the h's or confusing j's, h's or possibly y's. Still, it's an intersting thought and there can be no denying English confuses the hell out of non-native speakers.