As some of you may know, I am working on a PhD in linguistics. Therefore, as you can imagine, I am a Word Nerd. A Lover of Language. A Grammar Geek. Call me what you will.

So imagine my delight when I found this article online that discusses both linguistics (in this case, pronunciation) and my favorite holiday! (Worlds collide!) From the Grammarphobia Blog:

Q: When did people start pronouncing ‘Halloween’ as HOL-o-ween rather than HAL-oween?

A: I can’t tell you exactly when it happened, but it would appear that the HOL pronunciation has gained in popularity over the last half-century. Contemporary dictionaries accept both the HAL (as in ‘hallowed’) and HOL (as in ‘holiday’) pronunciations for the first syllable of ‘Halloween.’ This is true for both The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.).

No labels or usage notes in the two dictionaries indicate that one pronunciation is preferred over the other, though HAL is listed as the more common pronunciation.

‘Halloween,’ formerly written ‘Hallowe’en,’ is short for ‘All Hallowed Even,’ which is the evening preceding All Hallows, or All Saints Day (Nov. 1). So one would think that etymologically the HAL pronunciation ought to be more historically accurate.

But my unabridged Webster’s New International Dictionary (2d ed.), dated 1956, notes that ‘an older pron. hol – cf. HOLIDAY– is still sometimes heard, but is generally considered now dialectal.’ This would suggest that the HOL pronunciation is an old one that has returned and become respectable in the last 50 years or so.”

So how do you pronounce it? My “professional” opinion as a linguist is that both ways are equally valid!

Ichabod Crane: Schoolteacher, and thus probably also a Word Nerd.

Update: I did a little research on the etymology of the word and how it aligns with the pronunciation of vowels in English.

The earliest known usage of the term “Halloween” was around 1700. This was right about the time when Middle English (e.g., Chaucer) gave way to Modern English (roughly the version we speak today). But the roots actually go back further, because the first half of the word “Halloween” is obviously “hallow,” which derives from the Middle English word “halwen” (ca. 1300).

And get this: Middle English didn’t have the sound in “HAL”! Back then, the first syllable of “hallow” would only have been pronounced “HOL.” Therefore, “Halloween” was most likely originally pronounced “HOL,” and the newer pronunciation “HAL” arose as a result of the Great Vowel Shift.

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8 thoughts on “You say tomato …

  1. Definitely HAL in my experience in central MT, eastern WA and central CO. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard HOL in common usage. Personally, if I can understand someone, I’m not particularly concerned with how they pronounce it, although I completely understand your fascination with how and why it may have changed.

  2. Omg……we’re in Philly & say HOL…hahahha…HAL seems like the way to go tho..hmmmm..starting today, i am making a mental note to say, HAL.. : D

    Pronunciation fascinates me!..i found it most interesting to hear, back during the Shakespearean era, the British accent was actually much more similar in sound to the (North) American accent. i guess especially with the R’s & such..how crazy, & exciting, huh!!.. 🙂

  3. I have to admit that I’m in the HOL camp too. In a sentence it’s definitely HOL…but if as a one-word reply to someone, I think it’s a LITTLE more bent towards the HAL…. though my entire family says HOL…

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