Daily Archives: October 18, 2008


A word that manifests a gap between classical Latin and modern English pronunciation. When it was at home, the vowels were i as in machine, a as in father, and u as in flute. And so it came into English. Then the great vowel shift happened, changing long vowels into diphthongs, and the short vowel was reduced further and the h came to be pronounced. Now the word sounds like it was invented to be squawked by nasal northeastern Americans (perhaps from Hyannis? more likely Avon Lake, Ohio). It starts with a greeting or an altitude, then there is a quantity or a meal, and finally we have us, which is us or just a Latin suffix such as you’ll see on onus or dorcus or diabetes mellitus. Nothing in the sound or spelling displays a lacuna as such, unless it be the gap in voicing heard with the h, which also shows up on fellow-travelling words: hernia, holiday, hole.