I need to reëxamine my love of the New Yorker's editorial department.
July 13, 2012 5:16 PM   Subscribe

What the heck is up with the New Yorker's umlauts?

The New Yorker employs this really strange spelling for English words that repeat a vowel. For instance, every other publication in the world would use the spelling "cooperate" or "co-operate", but the New Yorker would spell it "coöperate".

Wikipedia says this is a case of diaeresis, but why on earth does the New Yorker do this when no one else in the anglophone world uses this spelling? It particularly bugs me that this story is formatted to use the New Yorker's preferred spelling, but it totally clashes with the voice and diction of the author and in my opinion distracts from the writing. I realize the New Yorker is pretentious ("it's the New Yorker"). But come on! Is there some history around that publication's use of the umlaut? Help me penetrate this editorial mystery.
posted by deathpanels to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
the answer, from the new yorker:
http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/04/the-curse-of-the-diaeresis.html
posted by kelegraph at 5:18 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


A response from the New Yorker.

This is an incredibly common question. Google new yorker diaeresis tells you everything you need to know.

(on preview: jinx)
posted by Mo Nickels at 5:20 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


It was common when the magazine opened and they never changed it since.

What I hate is the Anglicisms like "calibre" and "fibre"; those were never used in the magazine until the Tina Brown era and I don't know why they haven't switched back.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:28 PM on July 13, 2012


What I hate is the Anglicisms like "calibre" and "fibre"; those were never used in the magazine until the Tina Brown era and I don't know why they haven't switched back.

Interesting. Their use of "travelling" drives me round the friggin' bend, and I once spent way too long trying to figure out if they had a good reason for it. (I never did, other than their house style just...is what it is.) I'll have to check if they used it pre-Tina Brown, b/c though I grew up reading the NY'er, I probably wouldn't have noticed British spellings at that age.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 5:36 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Please don't call it an umlaut when you know it's a diaeresis; that's like referring to the numeral 1 as a lower-case L because they were the same key on old typewriters.

Maybe I just read too many well-typeset books as a kid, but I still use the diaeresis when it reduces confusion about the word's pronunciation, like "naïve" or "coäx" or "Chloë". (Oddly I use a hyphen for "co-op" (like a store, as opposed to a chicken coop).) I think it's weird that it's become so strongly associated with the New Yorker.
posted by hattifattener at 6:36 PM on July 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


I find the use of New Yorker's continued use of the diaeresis a bit precious but I seem to remember learning to double certain final consonants to create the gerund (as in Destinationsunknown example of travelling) when I was in school in the US in the 70s. I don't so much remember learning it, just that at some point I noticed that it was no longer the accepted American usage. Spelling is sadly not my strong suit, so it could also be that I've totally got this wrong. Can some other middle aged US mefite confirm or refute this?
posted by kaybdc at 6:40 PM on July 13, 2012


I always write naïve, at least.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:56 PM on July 13, 2012


Please don't call it an umlaut when you know it's a diaeresis; that's like referring to the numeral 1 as a lower-case L because they were the same key on old typewriters.

If we're being pedantic, there seems to be some ambiguity as to what the actual diacritic is called. The Wiki article on Diaeresis first starts by saying that the diaeresis and umlaut are diacritics used to indicate diaeresis and umlaut respectively. But, by the end of the article, it's calling the actual mark a double dot. In German the actual mark is called a trema (as it is in French, well tréma). The English Wikipedia page for trema redirects to diaeresis.

I'm definitely not a linguist, but I think the diaeresis itself exists whether or not it is marked.
posted by hoyland at 8:10 PM on July 13, 2012


> It particularly bugs me that this story is formatted to use the New Yorker's preferred spelling, but it totally clashes with the voice and diction of the author and in my opinion distracts from the writing.

It would be very odd to see the same word spelled in different ways within the same magazine. What's the advantage of creating a time-consuming proofreading nightmare that will look sloppy in the end? (And who knows, maybe the author loves the old-fashioned trema in his story.)
posted by desuetude at 12:34 AM on July 14, 2012


The New Yorker should tell San Francisco to start writing Noë Valley. It would be as helpful and undistracting as coöperate.

The author of that blog post admits that they've "resisted" some of the potential applications of diaeresis. I imagine they have a fixed set of words that automatically get the umlaut. If they wanted to be consistent, wouldn't they be writing Koäla Bears and such? It seems like self-parody to me, but then again I don't write for The New Yorker.
posted by null14 at 4:19 AM on July 14, 2012


If we're being pedantic, there seems to be some ambiguity as to what the actual diacritic is called. The Wiki article on Diaeresis first starts by saying that the diaeresis and umlaut are diacritics used to indicate diaeresis and umlaut respectively. But, by the end of the article, it's calling the actual mark a double dot. In German the actual mark is called a trema (as it is in French, well tréma). The English Wikipedia page for trema redirects to diaeresis.

I'm definitely not a linguist, but I think the diaeresis itself exists whether or not it is marked.

hoyland, your reference doesn't indicate any ambiguity at all.

The instance of the diacritic mark to signify separately pronounced vowels is diaeresis.

The instance of the diacritic mark to signify vowel mutation is umlaut.

The diacritic mark itself, devoid of contextual meaning, is a "double-dot" (diaeresis mark or umlaut mark would work, as well).

The fact that foreign languages call a thing by a different word is ... because they're foreign languages.

Dictionaries seem to agree that diaeresis can mean both the dual-vowel pronunciation (so the word "cooperation" uses it, regardless of typesetting) and the mark indicating it. So, you're right on the final point.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:17 PM on July 14, 2012


> The author of that blog post admits that they've "resisted" some of the potential applications of diaeresis. I imagine they have a fixed set of words that automatically get the umlaut. If they wanted to be consistent, wouldn't they be writing Koäla Bears and such? It seems like self-parody to me, but then again I don't write for The New Yorker.

Consistent = choosing one spelling of a word among multiple valid spellings in English to use across the entire publication. Koäla is not an established variant spelling of koala.
posted by desuetude at 2:24 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is the diaresis driving you dotty?
Why has “naïve” survived, but not “coöperate”? Why do we write “Noël,” but not “poëm” or “reïgnite”? I’d appreciate (or appreciäte) any help you can offer on the rules for using the diaeresis
Reëxamine
The correct punctuation mark to use when breaking up things in this way is the interpunct, or punt volat. It's used in Catalan to distinguish between the standard doble ela 'll' and the ela geminada l·l. This is exactly the same purpose,— to prevent letters from coalescing into a phoneme;— such as these common cases of double letters that could, possibly, be interpreted as a long vowel sound, if read by a space alien who had never read the New Yorker, and was not yet very familiar with English: “Ree-cha-mee-nay, what is that?”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:10 AM on October 31, 2012


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