Preservation Grammar: An Historic or A Historic?

In elementary school, most of us learned that it is proper to use “an” before a word that begins in a vowel. Otherwise, use “a”. However, the English language has exceptions to every rule. This is no different. For example, “an hour” is proper as opposed to “a hour”. So why do we come across “an historic” when historic begins with “h”? Don’t we all pronounce the “h” in historic? Sort of. “H” is a weak consonant and pronounced differently across the world, which affects our choice of indefinite article (a or an).

Is there an answer? Yes. Historic is correctly pronounced with the “h” and therefore requires “a” before it. So, the correct pairing of words is “a historic.”

Trusted sources include Grammar Girl, the Oxford Dictionaries, and The Slot. How do you feel about an historic v. a historic? Any other grammatical pet peeves?

Previous Preservation Grammar posts: Affect v. Effect and Historic v. Historical.


Preservation Grammar: Affect v. Effect

Previously: Historic v. Historical

The grammar topic for today: affect v. effect.

“Affect” and “effect” are commonly misused words, whether in relation to the preservation field or not.

While the nuances of these two words can seem complex and there are instances in which both can be verbs and nouns, it is generally straightforward when applying definitions to preservation documents. Still, remembering and applying the appropriate word is important. This is because of their use in the National Historic Preservation Act and the Section 106 regulations.

“Affect” is a verb. As in, will not affect historic integrity.

“Effect” is a noun. As in, adverse effects.

Grammar, Semantics, Theory and Tangents

Readers, if you have not been following the commentary on Monday’s post of Preservation Grammar: Historic v. Historical, I recommend you do! What started as a simple post have led to discussions on linguistics, terminology in the field, relevance to archaeology and more. Chime in; it’s fun!

To those already discussing, keep it going! Thanks for the debates and lessons so far.

Preservation Grammar: Historic v. Historical

The grammar topic for today: When it is correct to use “historic” or “historical”?

How often do you come across “historical preservation” as opposed to “historic preservation?” I see this quite often, whether casually or in presentations. If you consider the laws and the basis for the field, the proper term is “historic” not “historical”. For all other purposes, what’s the difference?I found the best explanation I’ve seen so far via Grammar Girl.

You can read Grammar Girl’s response or listen to the podcast about Historic v. Historical here. In brief, historic is something significant to our past whereas historical is something that is old and not necessarily important. If you think back to the Old House v. Historic House discussion, you’ll recall that historic means significant. Significant means that a building, structure, object, district or site is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Old is simply old and not important or significant.

Now, how to remember this? From Grammar Girl:

William Safire said something that might help you remember the difference: “Any past event is historical, but only the most memorable ones are historic” (3). I’ve also created an odd memory trick to help you: You can remember the meanings of these two words by thinking that “ic” is “important,” and they both start with i, and “al” is “all in the past,” and those both start with a.

Why does this matter? Should you correct people who say historical preservation as opposed to historic preservation? (You should if it’s an appropriate occasion only.) Think of it this way: historical preservation leans toward the stereotype of “saving everything” as opposed to preserving, documenting, incorporating the significant (i.e. historic) elements of the past.

What do you think?