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#1 2006-09-16 14:57:05

Peter Forster
Eggcornista
From: UK
Registered: 2006-09-06
Posts: 813

Ear? Hear here!

‘Play it by ear’ means to react without a plan or any rules. I was surprised to find 61 googlehits for ‘play it by hear’, and even more surprised to find 176 ghits for ‘play it by here’. The ‘hear’ version might mean essentially the same as the original :- paying careful attention to what is actually happening then making a decision at the last moment.
But ‘play it by here’ seems different: it doesn’t look like a spelling/typo error and it conjures an alternative image. It could be an arcane sporting term but it has the sense of an unwillingness to play it by ‘there’, an intention to deat with things from the security of familiar territory.
My real interest here (yes, I know) is in the peculiar role the ‘aitch’ plays in our common language, dropped aitches in speech often denoting poorer and less well educated people as well as being a guide to place of origin, and yet I have received witheringly condescending correction for my use of the aspirate in the word ‘hotel’. I would pronounce the word ‘herb’ similarly, but I believe American useage would have it as ‘erb?
Apparently it’s all the fault of the Norman French, whose ostility towards haspirates changed pronunciation all the way to North Yorkshire.
Finally a more sober note – I heard recently a radio interview with Northern Irish folk who were (are?) sometimes challenged by gangs who demand the individual recite the alphabet – the wrong aitch/haitch can result in beatings or much worse.

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#2 2006-09-16 17:04:55

jorkel
Eggcornista
Registered: 2006-08-08
Posts: 1455

Re: Ear? Hear here!

Peter Forster wrote:
Finally a more sober note – I heard recently a radio interview with Northern Irish folk who were (are?) sometimes challenged by gangs who demand the individual recite the alphabet – the wrong aitch/haitch can result in beatings or much worse.

My response:
There’s a term for that: a “haitch” crime. (hate crime).

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#3 2006-09-16 17:47:17

Tom Neely
Eggcornista
From: Detroit
Registered: 2006-09-01
Posts: 121

Re: Ear? Hear here!

P.F. – You are correct. We say, “erb” while you say “herb.” It is one of those things I would expect to be the other way around.

A thought on your Norman French and the sound of H: I believe it goes back further and roots deeper. Classical Greeks had the H sound, but they did not believe it was worth a letter. They just used a little mark for it. And since that time, the Greeks have dropped the H sound, although they sometimes still use the little mark.

We Americans do something similar. Even though we pronounce the H on hotel and on nearly every H word, many of us still say and write, “an” rather than “a” before H words, as if the H were not there, or as if H is not a fully-accredited letter.

Maybe we should blame those pesky Proto Indo Europeans, rather than the Normans.

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