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What is the preferred way to write words such as exposé in English?

My Firefox spellchecker even tells me that exposé is incorrect and suggests expose.

If exposé is correct, then how does this sit in the grand scheme of things? Does this mean that é is also part of our alphabet, or is this word special in that is not formally recognised as being part of the English language?

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Please help me to re-tag this question appropriately, thanks! – xiaohouzi79 Sep 28 '11 at 23:31
Do you mean verb "expose" or noun "exposé"? Each is correct for its own purpose. If you are asking about both, amend the question. – jwpat7 Sep 28 '11 at 23:44
@jwpat7 - if I was asking about two different words that would just be silly – xiaohouzi79 Sep 28 '11 at 23:52
In a spelling bee, when the pronouncer says "exposé” and the speller just says "E" on the end, it would be judged correct. – GEdgar Sep 29 '11 at 15:07
For all the 5 people who upvoted the @jwpat7 comment, if you think you can do a better job, why not just edit the question? Time wasters. – xiaohouzi79 Sep 29 '11 at 22:42

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Exposé is a French loanword. As such it uses the accent and is pronounced differently than the English verb "to expose".

Whether accented letters are formally part of the English alphabet might be up for debate, depending on how you define "formal".

Loanwords are not uncommon in English, and we try to keep the correct diacritical marks where it makes sense and helps readability: especially when the word can be confused with another English word (see also resume vs. résumé). Accented words are not too rare.

However, accented words are still relatively exceptional. We don't alphabetize specially for accented letters like some languages: it's mostly treated as the same letter, but with a foreign accent. Most English speakers don't commonly know the names of the accents acute, grave, circumflex, umlaut, etc., so I would go out on a limb and say that they are not formally part of the language.

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The only correct spelling for the noun is exposé.

However, if you're on anything but a Mac, trying to key in characters with accents or other diacritical marks is an exercise in geekery.

(Edit: Merriam-Webster Unabridged lists the unaccented expose as an acceptable variant, in recognition of the keyboard gymnastics otherwise involved.)

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You can always google expose and copy and paste the first exposé. – Hugo Sep 29 '11 at 6:30
@Hugo: Shockingly, it's possible to be using a word processor in a place where (gasp!) you don't have Internet access. (Like a cabin in the mountains; or in some remote area where even a reliable source of electricity isn't a given.) – Gnawme Sep 29 '11 at 7:18
But if you have no internet access (yikes!) you're unlikely to be using Firefox spellchecker. Real word processors are more likely to have both words in their spell-checker, at least Microsoft Word and Writer do. Anyway, the question is about spelling not typing. :) – Hugo Sep 29 '11 at 8:57
AltGr+e doesn't strike me as that geeky. – TRiG Aug 5 '12 at 21:29
@TRiG: US keyboards don't have an AltGr key. Right Alt + E just activates the E keyboard shortcut (generally by opening the current program's Edit menu), same as Left Alt + E would. – Marthaª Jul 25 '13 at 0:16

Surely it would come down to the way you would say the word if you were talking to another person? If I was talking/writing about an exposé (noun) that I heard/read about I would spell it as I said it. Writing the word as expose indicates the verb to me.

I do get frustrated at written words not being shown in the manner in which they are intended to be pronounced; it tends to interrupt the reading flow (for me) while my old brain shudders to a halt, reformats the word in terms of its pronunciation, and then carries on.

If you have an ingrained objection to using accents in your writing don't use foreign words. Find a pure english version, if there is any such things these days!

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Foreign imports become anglicized over time. Do many people still write ‘café’? – Barrie England Sep 29 '11 at 6:16
English isn't phonetic so in many cases dropping the accents from loanwords is fine (cafe), but are better kept to avoid confusion (exposé, expose). – Hugo Sep 29 '11 at 6:36
@Barrie. Quite a few people still write café, yes. – TRiG Aug 5 '12 at 21:29

I just encountered the use of the word exposé in a piece of writing where the é was substituted with the letter e followed by a single quotation mark: i.e. expose'.

This gets around the need to add new "foreign" characters to the 26 character English language alphabet. Might this sit better with the purists?

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