The inscription, “…Mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people,” which is above the door of the Interfaith Chapel has been a source of inspiration since the building’s dedication in 1970, former Director of the Interfaith Chapel Jody Asbury said.
“The building was to be a multi-faith community, a place for prayer for all,” she said. “The passage inscribed over the Chapel doors remains a bold commitment to diversity.”
The inscription also, ironically, stands for a quasi-commitment of the university to an older form of English — more specifically, why is it “an house” instead of “a house?”
Current English rules stipulate that one would use “an” in place of “a” when it precedes a vowel sound, not just a vowel. That means it’s “an honor” because the “h” is silent, but “a UFO” because it is pronounced “yoo eff oh.”
Nonetheless, the “h” in house isn’t silent, so many people mistakenly conclude that the inscription must be a typo. But that’s an incorrect assumption — it is really more of a relic of our language’s past.
“The usage of the ‘n’ form of the indefinite article ‘an’ before words beginning with h — especially ‘h-o’ — goes back to Renaissance usage reflected in the King James Bible,” Professor of English Russell Peck said. So many words — historic, heroic, humble and house, for instance — were proceeded by “an” instead of “a.”
When University Trustee Gilbert McCurdy picked the inscription for placement over the door, he was most likely using a King James Version of the Bible, which was translated in 1607.
The change is more recent than many people think. While most Bibles changed the word around the turn of the 20th century, the Temple Bible of London published in 1903 stuck with “an house.”
Additional reporting by Colin Brown.