Fancy diacritics

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From Alex Baumans:

This has just popped up in my Facebook feed, so I have no idea where this comes from, or whether it has been doing the rounds. Anyway, for someone who regularly uses a spelling system with diacritics, it all seems a bit silly and parochial.

Semiotically, on beyond the metal umlaut!



  1. Philip Taylor said,

    March 6, 2020 @ 12:25 am

    I confess that I had to consult Wikipedia to learn in which languages lower case r with acute and lower case r with grave are actually used — Croatian, Wenzhounese Romanization System and Accented Slovenian, Croatian, Lower Sorbian, Slovak, Wenzhounese Romanization System respectively.

  2. Berwick said,

    March 6, 2020 @ 12:26 am

    “Snackle” appears to be the term for a particular foodstuff on sale at chains of Quiktrip (some convenience store/gas station hybrid?) in the US. According to the QT website:

    “For several months QuikTrip (QT) customers have become familiar with the term “snackle,” and now the company is formalizing the definition. QT announces today the official dictionary-worthy definition of the self-created term:
    Snackle: /SNAK’UHL/ – Part snack, part meal, a snackle is a perfectly satisfying food and/or drink from QuikTrip. A snackle can take many forms and taste profiles, giving it the unique ability to satisfy any craving at any time.”

    Another photo:

    I’m not in the US so this is all new to me. From what I can find online, the marketing for this is all over the place. Definitely going for the zany/quirky/gen z angle in a way that should be cringeworthy were it not be for the fact there *may* a dozen layers of irony to be teased out? Or maybe there is no irony at all and the whole thing is a wild runaway train that is so crazy it just might work?

    On the subject of gratuitous diacritics. I’ve seen online discussions whereby people make distinctions between movies (low-brow productions), cinema (mid-brow), cinéma (high-brow) and činémâ (sub-200 IQ individuals need not apply). It’s not a meme which has gained a massive amount of traction outside of certain spheres, but it may grow. I see it as the written equivalent of using an over the top French accent to denote something as much fancier than it actually is – ironically or otherwise.

  3. Rodger C said,

    March 6, 2020 @ 1:33 am

    činémâ? Surely they jest.

    Meanwhile, /SNAK'UHL/ is one more example of a worse-than-nothing attempt at indicating pronunciation.

  4. Terror Incognita said,

    March 6, 2020 @ 1:36 am

    @Berwick: It seems to me that there's some irony, but not a lot. It's playing on the whole 'diacritics = exotic/fancy' thing in a way that appeals to people who would intuitively make a connection between diacritics and things that are outside one's comfort zone. Silly and parochial is an excellent description of my feelings toward it, too. Slightly tongue-in-cheek, but not enough for me to doubt that they take that connection seriously themselves.

    Also I think Gen Z'ers in general are a little too worldly for this. My feeling is that it's targeting slightly (but not very) bohemian middle-class Gen X'ers.

  5. Suzanne Valkemirer said,

    March 6, 2020 @ 1:39 am

    From Wikipedia (s.v. Häagen-Dazs):

    Reuben Mattus invented the phrase "Häagen-Dazs" in a quest for a brand name that was purportedly Danish-sounding. The term actually does not exist in the Danish or any other known language; and Danish has neither an umlaut ä (the ligature æ is the corresponding counterpart) nor the zs digraph.[5] According to Mattus, it was a tribute to Denmark's exemplary treatment of its Jews during the Second World War,[6] and included an outline map of Denmark on early labels. Mattus felt that Denmark was also known for its dairy products and had a positive image in the United States.[7] His daughter Doris Hurley reported in the 1999 PBS documentary An Ice Cream Show that her father sat at the kitchen table for hours saying nonsensical words until he came up with a combination he liked. The reason he chose this method was so that the name would be unique and original.[8]

  6. Christian Weisgerber said,

    March 6, 2020 @ 2:09 am

    @Philip Taylor
    The letters r and l with acute (ŕ, ĺ) are certainly part of normal Slovak orthography, where they indicate the phonemically long version of such as resonant. Both short and long r and l can appear as a syllable nucleus, so this is just the normal Slovak use of indicating long "vowels" with an acute.

    Croatian would presumably only use r with acute or grave in dictionary entries or such; it is not part of the standard orthography.

  7. unekdoud said,

    March 6, 2020 @ 3:00 am

    Is this actually typable? Is there a thing I can copy and paste into Google Translate just for laughs?

    [(myl) öuŕ fañciest gr̀illèd chées̈e yẽt

    Google translate detects it as "French" and translates it into English as "where fañciest gr̀illèd chées̈e yẽt".

  8. Andy Stow said,

    March 6, 2020 @ 3:40 am



  9. cM said,

    March 6, 2020 @ 3:44 am

    I have several times been baffled by the bafflement I encountered when telling native English speakers writing in otherwise perfectly adequate German that no, those "fancy dots" are *not* optional.

    I blame Spın̈al Tap.

  10. Philip Taylor said,

    March 6, 2020 @ 4:44 am

    "those 'fancy dots' are not optional" — but can be replaced by digraphs, can they not ?

  11. Stephen Hart said,

    March 6, 2020 @ 6:24 am

    And we can't forget BÖC:

    "The addition of an umlaut was suggested by Allen Lanier, but rock critic Richard Meltzer claims to have suggested it just after Pearlman came up with the name, reportedly "because of the Wagnerian aspect of Metal".[33] Other bands later copied the practice of using umlauts or diacritic marks in their own band names, such as Motörhead, Mötley Crüe, Queensrÿche and parodied by Spın̈al Tap.[34]"Öyster_Cult

  12. AlexB said,

    March 6, 2020 @ 8:48 am

    I've heard the umlaut being described as 'those dots Germans like to use'

  13. cM said,

    March 6, 2020 @ 8:59 am

    Philip Taylor: By longstanding convention, yes.

    Historically, äöü actually *are* the "·e" digraphs, just in a
    typographically evolved/degenerated form.

    That evolution is still ongoing: In some parts of Germany,
    they were taught to be handwritten as something like a̋ , ő, ű
    (lines, not dots) up until the early 1980s.

  14. James Classen said,

    March 6, 2020 @ 9:50 am

    This is indeed from QuikTrip, a chain I happen to frequent. They're based in Oklahoma, and have stores in Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa. Very Midwest US. Why they decided to add random diacritics to letters, I've no idea. At the same time, I'm not sure why they didn't go farther. But you can most certainly type them: see

    This allows you to get "Spin̈al Tap" as well as "Öuŕ fañciest gr̀illèd chées̈e yẽt."

  15. David Marjanović said,

    March 6, 2020 @ 3:20 pm

    Croatian would presumably only use r with acute or grave in dictionary entries or such; it is not part of the standard orthography.


    "those 'fancy dots' are not optional" — but can be replaced by digraphs, can they not ?

    That's the emergency solution for when you're restricted to ASCII, or for crosswords as a trick that allows crossword makers more options. But if your name is Faerber, it's not Färber; and if it's Mueller-Töwe…

    That evolution is still ongoing: In some parts of Germany,
    they were taught to be handwritten as something like a̋ , ő, ű
    (lines, not dots) up until the early 1980s.

    They're still taught as two vertical lines instead of dots in handwriting (basically what Americans call cursive, minus most of the calligraphy aspect).

    That's actually useful for distinguishing ü from ii, which would otherwise be identical (ii is rare in German, but does occur in words like assoziieren).

  16. Bob Ladd said,

    March 6, 2020 @ 8:44 pm

    The strong non-optionality of umlauts in German (including the more or less obligatory replacement by e if actual umlauts are not available) is in marked contrast to what happens in a number of other European languages, where diacritics can be left off under various circumstances (e.g. with upper-case letters, common in French and more or less universal in Greek) or just because they're too much trouble to reproduce on a keyboard (e.g. Romanian). (For an example of a diacritic-free Romanian web page, see e.g. – this is the site of a big outfit offering Romanian language courses for foreign learners!)

  17. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 7, 2020 @ 5:12 am

    This is a striking in part because unlike the more conventional "metal umlaut" usage it covers a whole phrase rather than simply a proper name. I think the key forerunner in that category is 1971's "TECHNICIÄNS ÖF SPÅCE SHIP EÅRTH THIS IS YÖÜR CÄPTÅIN SPEÄKING YÖÜR ØÅPTÅIN IS DEA̋D." A few years ago that was in fact mentioned/quoted in the wiki article on Metal Umlaut but now seems to have been edited out so you need to find it elsewhere. (I will admit to having cut-and-pasted the text from another wikipedia article w/o having proofread against my copy of the original, so I can't warrant that the transcription is error-free.)

  18. James Wimberley said,

    March 8, 2020 @ 12:00 pm

    I may have mentioned before that the Danish wind energy company Ørsted may be having an effect on the keyboards of anglophone business journalists. It's a very big company, with a stock market valuation of $45 bn, and globally dominates its fast-growing niche of offshore wind farms. The company logo in fact replaces the diacritic with a punning icon of an on/off switch.

  19. Richard Hershberger said,

    March 9, 2020 @ 5:29 am

    In related news, this excellent muppets video of the Swedish Chef making "Pöpcørn":

  20. Troy S. said,

    March 9, 2020 @ 9:32 am

    Mmm, I could really go for a grillèd cheese right now.
    Maybe with a nice tall glass of icèd tea.

  21. Glenn Wood said,

    March 10, 2020 @ 2:47 pm

    Email spammers/scammers substitute characters with similar diacritical ones to try to bypass spam detectors that rely on lists of words and phrases. Example:

    Why yoür antívírüs díd not detect malware?
    Answer: My malware üses the dríver, Í üpdate íts sígnatüres every 4 hoürs so that yoür antívírüs ís sílent.

  22. Garrett Wollman said,

    March 13, 2020 @ 4:49 pm

    Worthy of note that, in the other direction, there is no universally acceptable digraph substitution for last three letters of the Finnish/Swedish alphabet, å, ä, and ö. Back in the old ISO-646 days, these letters used the US/international reference version codepoints for |, {, and } (which must have made C programming in ISO-646-FI mighty difficult). "å" is the Swedish reflex of Danish/Norwegian "aa" and is often so substituted in contexts (like international sporting bodies that are still stuck in the 1980s) where the standard character is not available. The others are less predictable whether they'll get treated English-style or German-style. It never seems to occur to these folks that they need to upgrade their recordkeeping systems to allow storage and data entry of the proper spelling of people's names — we've only had ISO 10646/Unicode for a couple of decades now….

  23. Andrew Usher said,

    March 14, 2020 @ 12:29 pm

    The three Scandinavian 'funny letters' should be aa, ae, oe, without question. For no good reason Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish don't all spell them the same way, but they can be unamiguously mapped as such.

    It should be noted that the use of the German umlauts started in Gothic/blackletter script and only slowly spead to Latin script. In particular, capital letters usually used the digraph substitutions for a long time.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo dot com

  24. Philip Taylor said,

    March 14, 2020 @ 10:34 pm

    On what basis do you assert "should", Andrew ? With "could", I would have no problem, but "should" seems somewhat overly prescriptive to me …

  25. Andreas Johansson said,

    March 15, 2020 @ 2:43 am

    It should perhaps be pointed out that Norwegian and Dansih adopted "å" in place of older "aa" in 1917 and 1948 respectively, so that one is written the same in the three main Scandinavian languages.

  26. vladimir menkov said,

    March 15, 2020 @ 5:31 am

    They should have spelled it GŘİŁŁĘĐ, of course. (Or even better, ƢŘİŁŁĘĐ, but that may not be sufficiently transparent in Oklahoma.

  27. Andrew Usher said,

    March 15, 2020 @ 1:48 pm

    Philip Taylor:

    I meant 'should' assuming the need for a standard way of writing them in the English alphabet. Merely 'could' would hardly mean much, as they already have been written that way.

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