Thursday, May 31, 2007

LingAlert: "An" Added to Endangered List

I've been tracking this one for a few years now, and I think it's official: The article "an" will disappear from the American English lexicon in our lifetimes.

Have you even noticed? It used to be, "Hey, can you grab me an apple." Now, more and more, it's, "Hey, can you grab me a apple?" This is one of those language developments that makes no sense to me because it doesn't make anything easier. It's smoother to say "an" before a noun beginning with a vowel, yes? Yet, people choose the hard, awkward way. Kind of like how "how's your workload?" has turned into "hey, what's your bandwidth looking like today?" (I've also never understood how "being on the same wavelength"--a more techie saying--has been replaced by "being on the same page" in an age when no one reads books. Anyway...)

My only theory on the disappearance of "an" is to round up the usual suspect: hip hop. If you love hip hop like I do--and you know I'm lying--you'll notice that "an" is linguata non grata among the gold-toothed crowd. And in that context, it works. Kind of like "I can't get no satisfaction" sounds a helluva lot better than "I cannot acquire for myself one solitary morsel of satisfaction, yo." Thus, the progression from Jay-Z to my daily life can be charted as follows:



Has anyone else noticed a occurrence of this recently?

4 comments:

Vegas Gopher said...

I beg to differ. Outside of the hip-hop world, I've actually been tracking the superfluous use of "an" -- such as when a TV commentator says "It was an historic event." The h-sound (I believe it's called a phoneme but I'm to lazy to look it up) is a consonant, but I've heard "an" used in front of it for years. Hard to say why. It's an head-scratcher.

Bellamy Grant said...

That's an isolated incident. People say "an historic" for the same reason they say, "Can you send a copy of that to Susan and I?" They think it makes them sound intelligent even though it's wrong.

But "an historic" actually is the way they say it over the pond, isn't it?

The Wordman said...

hell, why don't we just do away with the indefinite article altogether -- that's the way a number of European languages swing it. and everyone knows the Greeks are totally fly these days. Xairete, B-man.

fab4fan said...

Yes, they say it that way over the pond, but they also don't pronounce their h's, thereby making it "an 'istoric," which makes sense. "An historic," on the other hand, does not.