At the risk of upsetting a huge percentage of the general populace, not to mention close personal friends, this article is going to examine the proper way to say the letter H. A simple, useful little letter that has somehow become embroiled in a superfluous war regarding issues of pronunciation. And seeing as you’re reading this short guide, it just might have stirred up one too many friendly arguments for you too.
H is Aitch
So, let’s set the record straight. Yep, the correct pronunciation is ‘aitch’. That’s also how to spell the word that describes the correct way to pronounce H, in case you want to play it in scrabble.
Consult any dictionary and you will find aitch is described therein (particularly useful if you like to win at bets). However, the Oxford English Dictionary describes it simply and succinctly thus:
aitch – n. the name of the letter H.
So there we have it. All that’s left to do now is convince the other 50% of the proletariat/bourgeoisie (the half that have been insisting on the dreaded ‘haitch’) that they’re wrong. Simple enough, huh?
Only it’s not that simple is it. Goodness, even teachers pronounce it wrong, so it’s little wonder that H is such a common cause of irritation. The comedian David Mitchell, an infamous dogmatic on points of grammar, has written a brilliant sketch summing up the unstoppable tsunami of rage that can take control of the pedant’s mind in the presence of haitch. First broadcast during episode 1, series 4 of That Mitchell and Webb Look, pity the poor office lackey who pronounces the company acronym HHH as haitch, haitch, haitch. He meets a swift and unfortunate end. (See the clip here, colloquially re-titled Grammar Nazi.)
Some Common Misconceptions About H:
“Aitch is what posh people say, so I’m going to say haitch.”
Wrong. Aitch is not posh. It’s correct.
“I say haitch because I’m from the north. Aitch is what southerners say.”
Wrong. This is not an issue of the north/south divide. Aitch is simply correct.
“Haitch is what I was taught and it’s what I’m going to say.”
Fair enough, as long as you know you’re wrong.
Why do People Say Haitch?
The reason H is such a widely mispronounced letter is possibly because dropping your aitches is such a well known grammatical error. Londoners, in particular, are prone to dropping aitches – as in “the train stops at ’enley, ’averstock and ‘ereford.” They also have a tendency to insert an H where it isn’t required – as in “we ‘ardly hever run out of happles”. This over-correcting is possibly what led to the invention of haitch.
And by the way, many will argue that H should be pronounced haitch because words like hospital, house and Hampstead Heath all begin with a ‘huh’ sound. But what of hour and honourable? They don’t begin with a ‘huh’.
No, sorry to all you guys out there who disagree, but the correct pronunciation of the letter H is aitch. And even if the English speaking world eventually comes to accept ‘haitch’ (you won’t currently find it in the dictionary), it will always grate on those of us who know it should be aitch.
As a language, English is constantly evolving, so it’s true to say that haitch might, one day, become acceptable. Thankfully, we have not reached that day yet!