Here’re two examples of some odd typography with which I’ve recently become enamoured:



Courtesy, who else, the New Yorker.

I’m planning on this diaeresis usage for my thesis, but my supervisors have already raised questions about it. Perhaps it’s not such a good idea. After all, few people seem to find the spelling exactly intuitive, and even fewer, I’d wager, are familiar with the term “diaeresis” in the first place.

The diaeresis looks exactly like an umlaut, but has a rather different meaning. The umlaut, say in the word über, is an accent that indicates a change in vowel sound for that letter. It’s not really used in English (where double-consonants more often serve a similar purpose of changing the preceding vowel sound), but the umlaut is rather common in many European languages.

By contrast to that particular diacritic, the diaeresis is used, such as in the word naïve, to indicate that the two adjacent vowels are pronounced separately. nay–eve, instead of (er) nyve, let’s say. Even though all English speakers will pronounce the more commonly spelt naive correctly, anyway.

Which brings us back to the examples I showed above. The New Yorker, then, does not use hyphens to separate the halves of compound words. This is desirable in order to reduce the number of marks used on the page to represent the word; this has implications both for visual simplicity and running length of a piece of text (i.e., hyphenation and justification are easier when less characters are used).

And when it ends up that a compound word is used but the absence of the hyphen results in two adjacent vowels—then’s the time for the diaeresis in words like coördinate, coöperate, and so on. Personally, I think this is quite tidy and quaint, and I’m trying to emulate their style.