“In hospital”

Rose Jacobs, a colleague of mine at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Lingua Franca” blog, recently reported a use of “in hospital” on the public radio show “This American Life.” I’ve never come upon one myself, only “to hospital.” So I still count the expression as “On the radar.”

Rose also linked to an amusing New York Times column by Roger Cohen, an Englishman who, returning there after more than thirty years in the U.S., was reminded of the significant differences in language. He also found that British English had changed in his absence:

Somewhere in the interim the letter aitch had become “haitch,” with the result that spelling out my family name (surname) was painful. You had somehow morphed into the ghastly reflexive “yourself,” as in, “And for yourself?”

I had thought non-reflexive “yourself,” like “myself” (“Myself and Bill went to the movie”) was as American as it gets. Live and learn.

47 responses to ““In hospital”

  1. Liked the Cohen piece for reminding me of an American ‘hell yes’ quality. I’m not in the hospital, either.

  2. Haitch is not correct in British RP. It’s a regional variation, though.

    With the hospital thing, over here if you’re ‘in hospital’ then you’re a patient, if you’re ‘at the hospital’ you’re at a specific hospital for some other reason such as visiting a patient or because you work there. If you say ‘I’m going to hospital’, it’s because you are a patient and have to attend for medical reasons.

  3. I don’t recall hearing any incidents of “Myself and…” beginning a sentence, but I hear “Me and…” quite often, particularly on TV.

    • I’ve heard and read ‘myself” and ‘yourself” quite frequently when working with other English people. I’ve received letters saying something like, “My colleague and myself were pleased to have had the opportunity to meet yourself and your colleagues…’
      It’s a false genteelism and an appalling way to treat a language. It comes from being taught that one should avoid referring to ‘the great I am’. Saying ‘I’, ‘me’ or you in certain circles is to be avoided at all gosts, even at the cost of speaking decent English. Un grammatical beats over-familiar.
      It’s a similar afflication to Mrs Bucket’s of the TV comedy who insisted that her name was ‘boo-kay’. Pure, and misguided, social climbing.

  4. I am going to hospital. When I get there I shall be in hosptal

  5. Cohen’s piece quotes an Englishwoman as saying: “I realize most of us are such weeds. Yes, we really are weeds.” Cohen seems to imply that this usage of “weed” is new. But I associate the term “weed” in this sense with the schoolboy slang captured by Geoffrey Willans in his “Molesworth” series of books, written in the voice of the main character, Nigel Molesworth. I read those books when I was a kid, in the late 70s, but they were written back in the 50s. Molesworth would always describe his classmate Basil Fotherington-Thomas as “a weed, and utterly wet”.

    • And “Gosh chiz this is molesworth 2 my bro he is uterly wet and a weed it panes me to think i am of the same blud. I diskard him.”

  6. I must say the “in/to hospital” phrase has always annoyed me. It just sounds SO wrong!
    But of course, I am an American!😉

  7. “Haitch” is an abomination, and should be banished from the face of the earth. My bank is HSBC, and they sometimes answer the phone as “Haitch-S-B-C”, which drives me MENTAL!
    Sorry, but I don’t get the hospital thing. If you’re going “to the hospital”, you’ll be there to visit somebody, or on an out-patient basis. If you’re “in hospital”, you’re confined to a hospital bed. What is the confusion?

    • I totally agree with you regarding the pronunciation of the letter aitch. However, you have also inadvertently raised its use at the beginning of words. In formal BrE usage it is silent in the word hospital, thus “an hospital bed”, but not in “herbs” (unlike AmE).

      • No, I don’t think I’ve inadvertently done anything! – we always pronounce the h in both “hospital” and “herbs” (unless we’re Cockneys, real or wannabe, which is another story). Nobody says or writes “an hotel”, “an historic occasion” and so on any more, whatever the formal usage is supposed to be.

  8. Growing up in Ireland it was always “haitch”. We were aware that English people pronounced it “aitch” but we assumed that they were simply leaving unvoiced an initial “h”, as they did with so many other words, and that if there were ever an occasion to spell out the name of this letter, it would be “haitch”. And this assumption was reinforced by the fact that most of the letters have names which feature (and usually start with) the letter being named. It came as quite a surprise to me to discover that English people didn’t just pronounce this name as “aitch”; they thought it actually was “aitch”.

    They’re wrong, of course. Logic and common sense testify that the name of this letter is “haitch”. 🙂

    • Your explanation of the unvoiced initial aitch in British English is a revelation to me. Now I understand why Brits say “an historic” (which drives me crazy coming from my fellow Americans, who voice the aitch).

    • Dan, your obviously intentional wind-up has got me going – probably because, reluctantly, I can’t fault your logic! Doesn’t mean I’m going to start “Haitching” any time soon though…

      • Yes the haitch is Irish pronunciation and your reaction is typical in that it drives English people insane. The aitch pronunciation is correct English and unsurprisingly so, since the origin is the French word ache. What does surprise me is that haitch has caught on in England. How did that happen? Irish people also pronounce the h in wh words whereas the English don’t. In England if you hear an item on the news referencing Wales, it may take you a moment to realise that it has nothing to do with Wales being washed up but is a story about whales. In Ireland they say it with a distinct wh sound so you always know it is whales and not Wales.
        I don’t think anybody now pronounces historic as ‘istoric. It was old fashioned when Robert Robinson used to do it on the radio but now even he is dead. I have a faint echo in my ear of other old -fashioned country speakers from the distant past saying ‘otel and an ‘otel. I quite like it for the old associations but it isn’t something one hears nowadays.
        Hotel and hospital with the h pronounced is standard English.

      • Unfortunately, we’ve exhausted WordPress’s maximum level of nesting in spots, so in re. “Sammy | December 12, 2014 at 9:06 am |,” I was taught in American grammar school, in a time long ago, that the proper way to pronounce a “wh” word was to blow it out of one’s mouth, i.e., with a breath through puckered lips when approaching the “wh,” (There’s a Muppets skit on that, but one I couldn’t find readily on YouTube.)

        As for old-fashioned pronunciations, I always enjoyed Keith Jackson’s television coverage of American college football games because he used the term (in my opinion, properly), “times out,” instead of the otherwise universal, “timeouts.”

    • “Haitch” may be an Irish pronunciation but it must also be an Irish spelling as the correct English spelling is ‘aitch’. How did the haitch pronunciation catch on in Britain? Well, um, I suppose it could be all those hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants arriving in England over the millennia, possibly?

      Concerning pronouncing the h in words such as what, who and which: this is still normal in Ireland, Scotland and Northern England but has died out in the South. The originally spelling of these words in Old English put the first two letters the other way round – closer to but not exactly hwat (or hwaet) hwo and hwich. Spelling was standardised to ‘match’ the th and sh formations. I can’t imagine why that was considered necessary.

      • David Pothecary

        It’s just down to poor education, sadly. The same misconception between aitch and haitch for Ireland, but across the whole UK.

        We might see all of these things taken together as “Police speak”; the kind of English used by a Police officer when making an official statement of some sort. There’s a perceived need for “posh” words but a misunderstanding of how they are supposed to be used.

      • David Pothecary below, “Haitch” is a perfectly legitimate name for.the letter H in Hiberno-English, and your rejection of it as “down to poor education” would get you booted out of every institute of learning in Ireland.

    • Some Australians say ‘haitch’. I mentioned to an Australian friend, who does not say ‘haitch’, that i had noticed this amongst some of his compatriots.
      He replied that this was so and that I’d find that the ones who say ‘haitch’ are Catholics, the reason being that they pick it up from the priests, many of whom are, or used to be, Irish.

      • Not so much the priests as the schools. In Australia, Catholics went to Catholic schools, which were very much Irish-influenced. The “haitch” pronunciation is a legacy of this.

      • Dan,
        Actually, that’s what I meant, the priests and, presumably, nuns who teach, or taught, in Catholic schools. That’s what my Australian friend told me and it was only after reading your comment that I realized that I had not been specific.

  9. As a Brit I don;t even notice if I hear an American say ‘in the hospital’, although I might wonder ;which hospital ?
    By and large I find American speech easy on the ear, but one thing really does grate my ear (and make my hair stand on end and my teeth itch):
    The mangling of English words of French origin:
    masseuse (masserze) mangled as ‘massooss’
    Lingerie corrupted to ‘longeray’

    Perhaps I should shrug it of with ‘vive la difference;

    • If you want to hear more mangling, come to Texas and listen to Anglos utter place names of Spanish origin, pronunciations which have become standard (except possibly among local Latino communities). Examples include “guad-loop” for Guadalupe, and “man-shack” for Manchaca.

    • Then there’s the contradictory pronunciations of “Saint Louis” and “Louisville”.

    • There’s one American pronunciation that I heard recently which gives a slight frisson of delight and it’s Notre Dame pronounced as Noter Dayme. It’s the novelty of it, I suppose, having been used to the French pronunciation and taken for granted it was the only one.

      • Depends what’s being referred to – if it’s an American Football team, then I guess they have every right to call it “Noter Dayme”; if it’s a church in Paris, however, the French pronunciation is mandatory

  10. As usual good old Billy hits the nail on the head:

    If it wisnae fur yer wellies
    Wherewud you be?
    You’d be in the hospital
    Or in firmary

  11. “Nobody says or writes “an hotel”, “an historic occasion” and so on,”
    Demonstrably false.

  12. “amusing New York Times column by Roger Cohen” – I clicked on the link and found a rather unamusing, sloppy and meretricious article; obligatory mention of spotted dick, a dish I (an Englishman in his late 50s) have never seen, and which only ever occurs in articles about Britain in the America press. Roger Cohen assumes the unattractive posture of an Uncle Tom currying favour with his new country by ridiculing his native land.

    • We used to be forced to eat spotted dick at boarding school. It was disgusting until they poured custard on it, when it became inedible
      I believe it is against the Geneva Convention now

    • I don’t recall ever hearing of “spotted dick,” so I looked it up. From the photo (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spotted_dick), aside from the shape, it looks like what my German grandmother called, “poor man’s cake.” But it was a cake made with raisins, not a pudding, and it was never served with custard. Clearly not the same thing.

      • My mum used to make Spotted Dick with custard. It was a steamed suet pudding with raisins and a bit of spice in it. Yummy!

      • There seems to be a difference of meaning in the word “pudding” between the US and the UK, I recall. There are things like spotted dick and Christmas pudding, which are mixtures of flour and suet and fruit, steamed. Then there’s Yorkshire pudding, which is baked batter. And milk puddings, such as rice pudding which is milk, sugar, butter and short grained rice baked. And black pudding is a type of blood sausage. Haggis is also described as a pudding.

        For that matter, in the UK custard usually refers to a pouring sauce made from cornflour.

      • Thanks, Dormouse, for explaining that. To this Yank, pudding is what you qualify as a “milk pudding.” All the rest are something else.

      • I forgot steak and kidney pudding, which is one of my favourites. A mixture of steak, kidneys and onion in a casing of suet pastry in a hemispherical pudding basin. My mother used to make these. I remember her eyes streaming as she chopped the onions. Then she covered the basins with a coarse cloth and steamed them for what seemed like hours.

        Now I buy them ready made at the supermarket and microwave them.

      • Too bad WordPress doesn’t allow us to edit our posts. What I should have said is, “…all others are beyond my experience, except for steamed plum pudding with hard sauce.”

      • And hard sauce is not something I know, although it does sound a bit like the brandy sauce traditionally served with Christmas pudding.

        A friend of mine told a story about her department’s Christmas dinner one year. It started with fish in white sauce, which everyone thought was a bit bland. Then turkey and all the trimmings, which was fine. Then Christmas pudding in brandy sauce. Almost as one, the entire department let out a “yuck” as they started to eat. Turns out that the cooks had served the fish with the base for the brandy sauce – no flavourings added – and the Christmas pudding with fish sauce.

    • Now there’s a coincidence. Just came back to check on this thread. I love spotted dick and had an urge today to make one for dinner tomorrow and had just been checking to see which ingredients I needed. (I’m out of suet so I’ll have to buy some tomorrow.)

    • Graham, I am only a little older than you and have enjoyed eating spotted dick for many decades: it’s delicious, you really need to try it.

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