aitch

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AITCH. The name for the letter H, often used disparagingly in such expressions as an aitchdropper, aitch-free, and aitchless. In phonetics, the term aitch-dropping refers to the absence of initial /h/ in such words as harm and here (usually shown in writing as ʾarm and ʾere), common in working-class and lower middle-class SPEECH in much of England; the use of the term, however, is controversial because one cannot ‘drop’ a sound that one has not first ‘held’. Absence of initial /h/, though widespread, is nonstandard in BrE. On its absence from COCKNEY speech, Robert Barltrop and Jim Wolveridge make the following comment in The Muvver Tongue (1980, pp. 6 and 101):
Cockneys drop h's. So do the French. … The teacher's case is that ‘h’ should be sounded on English words because this is the established practice. So it is—but not among Cockneys. They know that h's are there and put them in in writing; but to use them in speech is ‘talking posh’. Their omission does not lead to misunderstandings, except by non-Cockneys …. One Sunday morning some years ago I sat in a bus behind a man who had his little boy of about four on his lap. The child had a picture-alphabet book, and the father was explaining it carefully; when they came to h, the picture was of a hedgehog. The man said: ‘that's an edgeog. It's really two words, edge and og. They both start with h.’

Many upwardly mobile non-aitch-using people in England have sought to ‘restore’ (that is, acquire) initial /h/, with varying success. Some socialists, however, have made a political point of its absence from their speech or, if brought up ‘aitch-fully’, have sought to drop their aitches as a token of working-class solidarity. In 1903, Shaw observed in Man and Superman: ‘This man takes more trouble to drop his aitches than ever his father did to pick them up.’ See ARTICLE, ASPIRATE, DIALECT IN ENGLAND, GEORDIE, STRESS.

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aitch / āch/ • n. the name of the letter H.

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