I occasionally get questions and comments about the title of this blog, so I thought I should offer a brief explanation. Why is this blog titled “An Historian Goes to the Movies” and not “A Historian Goes to the Movies”?
Short answer: Because it feels right to me.
Long answer: Obviously in English, we use the indefinite article ‘a’ before words that begin with consonants and ‘an’ before words that begin with vowel sounds. ‘However, h’,’ is a very weak consonant. When it’s the first letter of a word, sometimes we pronounce it (as in ‘happy’) and sometimes we don’t (as in ‘honor’ or ‘hour’), so sometimes it takes ‘a’ and sometimes it takes ‘an’.
In the case of ‘historian’ and related words (‘history’, ‘historical’), we technically pronounce the ‘h’. If you say the word aloud all on its own, the ‘h’ is clearly there. However, the accent in ‘historian’ is on the second syllable, not the first, so there’s a tendency to de-emphasize the ‘h’ and say something a little closer to ‘istorian’. So when the ‘h’ starts to disappear, ‘an’ starts to be more acceptable.
In the 18th and 19th century, the standard rule was to say ‘an historian’, but over the course of the 20th century, American English has tended to shift away from that and say ‘a historian’. But British English still tends to say ‘an historian’. Although I’m American, I grew up watching a lot of British television shows and apparently this somehow crept into my English, because ‘an historian’ simply feels natural to me and ‘a historian’ feels clumsy. Every time I try to say it the American way, it just feels ugly and wrong. So the title of this blog is “An Historian Goes to the Movies”.
If you want a fuller discussion of the issue, here’s one.