The other day I found myself working with someone I had never met before. Her accent immediately told me that she was from Northern Ireland, and when she spelt my name to check that she had noted it properly, she pronounced the first letter of my surname as haitch. At that point I knew that I was in the presence of an Irish Catholic as this pronunciation is a shibboleth for the religious difference in the province – Protestants call the letter aitch. While the use of a non-U term can mean social death in England, the wrong name for this letter in Northern Ireland can (or could) have more than merely social consequences.
I was reminded of an article in the Guardian in which David McKie, though ignorant of this vital distinction, takes the name of the eighth letter as the main topic of an article whose main purpose seems not to be the advancement of linguistic understanding but apparently lies in the note at the end; he wishes to publicise his book. A letter published two days later puts the record straight.