February 16, 2004

An hero at the NYT

This morning's NYT has a story by Clifford Kraus about insults to French-speaking Canadians on an episode of Late Night with Conan O'Brien that was taped in Toronto. One phrase took me aback:

One reason nerves became so frayed was that the Triumph the Insult Comic Dog routine came just three weeks after Don Cherry, the CBC hockey commentator and an hero among a certain class of rough-and-tumble Anglophone Canadians, poked fun at French Canadian and European players for wearing protective visors on their helmets.

The string "an hero" does have 1,970 ghits, to 2,010,000 for "a hero." The "an hero" collection (leaving aside the German and so on) is a mixture of illiterate or apparently non-native English ("His contributions as an Hero, character artist, comedy roles can never be performed by any other artist." "He makes himself to be an hero when 336 american soldiers lost their lifes in Iraq so far" "Any body can be an hero My hero are The people who tought us what we should know and what we shouldn't.") and antique writings, like this passage from a letter of John Adams, written in September 1776:

Pray tell me, Colonel Knox, does every Man to the Southward of Hudsons River, behave like an Hero, and every Man to the Northward of it, like a Poltroon, or not? The Rumours, Reports and Letters which come here upon every Occasion, represent the New England Troops, as Cowards, running away perpetually, and the Southern Troops as standing bravely. I wish I could know, whether it is true.

The NYT itself over the past 30 days has 23 instances of "a hero" to just this one instance of "an hero".

So what's with Clifford Krauss? Was this just an editorial slip, or the start of an underground journalistic movement to bring back 18th-century linguistic norms?

Posted by Mark Liberman at February 16, 2004 09:29 AM