Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dieresis or umlaut--you be the judge

You would not think to use a dieresis over the "i" in the word naive.  You are aware, thanks to automated features of MS Word or iPages, of the use of an accent when using the word naivete.  It would not be amiss to see naivete with the dieresis over the "i" and the accent over the terminal "e."

Your copyeditor does.  (Your spell checker, with some nudging and insistence, has finally agreed to use the word copyeditor as one word.)

Such things, and myriad others like them, stand out like zits on a teenager's face as you now address the copyeditor's queries--a busted URL, for instance, or a humorous remark that Samuel Taylor Coleridge always spoke well of you, this after you'd referred to him as pompous--on your book project.

Interesting and insightful as the content editing process was, copyediting causes you to consider again how important all aspects of the language--even the mechanical ones--are.  You are stunned to note that you know the difference between the dieresis--the mark placed over the second of two consecutive vowels to indicate they are pronounced separately, or, as the terminal "e" in Bronte, to indicate that the "e" be pronounced--and the umlaut, even though they look the same.  The umlaut, of course, of course, is to signal an assimilation in the pronunciation.  You're big time up on this because, back in the day--not your day--the first "o" in your last name had an umlaut.  Even to this day, you can tell if an individual is European, as the lady at a German restaurant and,later a dry cleaner, if they pronounce your name loovenkopf, snapping the pf like boys in a locker room snapping towels. This distinction even gets you into the matter of the diphthong, with a word like boil, where there are two consecutive vowels, the first of which glides into the second.

In its way, copyediting details remind you how compulsive you are about language, at the same time making you aware how many others are more so than you when it comes to these mechanical details.  You go along, thinking you've got something, then you are copyedited and you begin thinking you've got something, all right; you've got a lot of learning to do merely to keep up with this remarkable language of our English.  It is a language that not only invites foreign words, such as naivete, into the family, it with some boldness usurps yet others.

Your own naivete about spelling was demonstrated when you incorrectly rendered the word diphthong the first time, resulting in one of those dotted red lines from your snotty spell checker, reminding you that you'd left out the first "h," a process that sent you to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fourth edition, unabridged, where you came across a word that has been missing from your vocabulary for some time, and for which you will have to find a use.  Dipshit.  What a lovely discovery.  Dictionary, what a lovely distraction. Which, when you come down to it, is precisely what you were trying to do with the very book project that got you copyedited in the first place and with which you must now return...

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