Where Have All The H’s Gone?

‘Yave’ you noticed? One of the letters of the alphabet is missing–at least in its spoken form. We need a search posse because this is serious.The eighth letter of the English alphabet, previously known as ‘H,’ has gone missing–at least the sound of it is gone. I began to notice this about six months ago, but maybe it had disappeared long before that.I was having lunch with an esteemed university professor, not a professor of English, however, but still, one with a PhD, which would make me think this person could be counted on to render the English language in correct pronunciation, and then I heard it…”youge.” “Youge?”, I thought–what’s that? I thought I’d misheard, but as fate would have it, I then heard it again–this time I knew I was not mistaken. But what in the world is “youge?”

Having the benefit of hearing it in context, I was able to guess that the intended word was actually “Huge”–that word that means super big and that has an ‘h’ at the beginning that is pronounced with a breath of expelled air. Linguists call this sound an “an aspirated ‘h’.” This I know from my days of teaching English to the French–for whom an aspirated ‘h’ is a very big deal–dare I say, a “Huge” deal? Many of them can never manage it, which results in some interesting new words-like “youge.” But the university professor who had used exactly this pronunciation for ‘Huge’ was not French, but born and bred in Chicago, doesn’t teach French, and has never even lived outside of the US, so there goes that explanation. What was she thinking?

I went to my trusted and well-worn Encarta dictionary, The Authority on all things ‘word’–had I been missing something for all these years? Was I the one mispronouncing this word for all my life? Not according to Encarta. (Whew.)

Then I checked an online dictionary (can these things be trusted?)–and that’s where I saw it–in print. Although the aspirated ‘h’ was the preferred (first listed) pronunciation, there it was, listed as “often [heard],”–“youge”/”yooge.” I keeled over.

Once revived, I continued the search for all the other aspirated ‘h’ words. Human, now ‘often,’ yooman, Humor is yoomor, Humid is yoomid…you get the picture, so apply the same pronunciation to any word beginning with a pronounced ‘h’ and see what you get. Basically, a whole new set of words. See if you recognize some old favorites in their new non-‘h’ forms, with a ‘y’ sound as replacement: yorse, youse, yave, yeat, yop, Yarry, yurricane, yumble, yula yupe, Youdini, and Yugh (as in Hefner, Downs, and Grant). And how now, with this loss of ‘h,’ can we tell the difference between hear and year, happy and yappy, hum and yum, hung and young how and ow?? Maybe we should just blame the British–they’ve always maintained that Herbs are ‘erbs’…they just haven’t heard about adding the ‘y’ to the front end.

Think how the names on the map have also apparently changed–Youston, Yawaii, Yonolulu, The Yague, Yonduras, Yimilayas, Yolland, Yavana, Yong Kong, Yuntsville…Americans have enough trouble locating geographic designations–we don’t need lost h’s confusing us anymore than we already are.

The French will be so pleased. Their struggles with aspirated ‘h’s’ are over…but then again, it may be too late. Many of them have contorted their brains and vocal chords to the point that they can now actually expel that breathy ‘h’…although they sometimes apply it in strange places…hairport, hate (for ‘ate’), hape, hapartment, harm (for ‘arm’), hattic, hasleep, hawake happle, hattitude, and you get the idea. So, maybe we’d better not break this news of the disappeared ‘h’ to the French…and maybe we’d just better slip it back into our pronunciation before any more damage is done.

Think about it. Your communications are in jeopardy. If you can’t year the difference, yow will you know if you yave been yurt or yelped? Yo yum….

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