9

Reading this article in the New Yorker I notice this word 'reëxamined'. It's not the only one written like this, any other word with double vowels will be written similarly.

What is the point behind this use ?

  • It could be to note that the second "e" is pronounced differently than the first one. An umlaut is used different pronunciations in other languages (commonly German). – Skooba Jan 15 '16 at 18:17
  • See answer to ell.stackexchange.com/questions/51042/… - its about the word naïve, but the answer is the same. An alternative to the dotted e would to write re-examined, to separate the two e's. – Stefan Jan 15 '16 at 18:59
  • I cannot find a reference for which words the New Yorker applies the diaeresis to. Does anybody know? – Mitch Jan 15 '16 at 21:03
7

This is a matter of the typographic style of the The New Yorker, a publication known for it idiosyncratic, slow-to-change, and close punctuation style. The two dots are called a diaeresis, which appears on the second of a pair of vowels to put the reader on notice that the second vowel starts a separate syllable. Note that a diaeresis is not an umlaut, which serves a different purpose in German. Mary Norris explains all of this in her article "The Curse of the Diaeresis". The rules for its appearance are the publication's own. They don't use it for vacuum, which might lead you to believe the editors consider the word to have only two syllables. But it's not used for zoology, which surely has three. Go figure.

  • What?? 'zoology' does not get a diaeresis in the New Yorker? furiously scribble letter to the editor – Mitch Jan 15 '16 at 20:59
  • 4
    @Mitch I suggest my usual opening after "To whom it may concern": I am shocked and dismayed .... – deadrat Jan 15 '16 at 21:04
  • 2
    sampablokuper, I have no problems with your correcting an error (in this case the erroneous substitution of cure for curse). But stay your hand at correcting my writing style. I'm not sufficiently invested in this answer to reverse your edits, but this is not a habit you want to cultivate. – deadrat Jun 8 '16 at 8:01
  • And if the style gets on your nerves you should take a diauretic! That'll get you really pissed! – Hot Licks Feb 4 '19 at 12:40
  • sampablokuper probably had to meet the minimum 6 characters limit in order for their suggested edit to pass through. – Mari-Lou A Feb 4 '19 at 13:00
3

I'm pretty sure (from years of reading The New Yorker) that the magazine adopted the use of diaeresis as an alternative punctuation to using a hyphen in situations where the final letter of a prefix is the same as the first letter of the stem word. That would explain why deadrat's examples of vacuum and zoology are not governed by the style rule.

Thus, The New Yorker prefers reëducate, reëxamined, coöperation, coördinate, and (perhaps) antiïntellectual to the alternative forms re-educate, re-examined, co-operation, co-ordinate, and anti-intellectual. I'm not entirely sure about this last example because The New Yorker's style rules are extremely granular (and often sui generis), and it may be that the house style favoring diaeresis over hyphen applies only to two-letter prefixes where vowel duplication occurs at the interface of prefix and stem.

My guess is that the magazine adopted this approach decades ago, at a time when few publications would simply have used the style reeducate and cooperation (for example). But The New Yorker is an island of usage unto itself; its loyalty to elsewhere-long-abandoned punctuation is unlikely to influence other publications, except perhaps to say "Let's not be as nutty as The New Yorker about this." I, for one, admire the magazine's pertinacity.

  • 2
    I don't think two-letter, but perhaps one syllable (Wouldn't a word like "preëxisting" get a diæresis?). – herisson Jan 20 '16 at 19:10
  • It's one of the lovable quirks in The New Yorker's editorial style. (It would be amusing to set one of their editors loose here for a few hours.) – Hot Licks Jan 20 '16 at 21:24
  • @sumelic: I believe you are right about preëxisting, and your monosyllabic-prefix rule makes perfect sense as the explanation. – Sven Yargs Jan 21 '16 at 2:15
  • @SvenYargs -- Say that three times, fast. – Hot Licks Jan 21 '16 at 4:22