I found the phrase ‘get a workout’ of (the use) of diaeresis in the following sentence of an article titled “The Curse of the Diaeresis” in New Yorker magazine (April 2), which I think might be of interest for those who are particlular about the rules of writing:

The special tool we use here at The New Yorker for punching out the two dots that we then center carefully over the second vowel in such words as “naïve” and “Laocoön” will be getting a workout this year, as the Democrats coöperate to reëlect the President.
Those two dots, often mistaken for an umlaut, are actually a diaeresis (pronounced “die heiresses” [...]). The difference is that an umlaut is a German thing that alters the pronunciation of a vowel, and often changes the meaning of a word: schon (adv.), already; schön (adj.), beautiful.

As I am unfamiliar with the usage of “get a workout,” I checked a couple of dictionaries at hand and online:

Cambridge Dictionary Online defines workout simply as a physical exercise.

Oxford Advanced English Learner's Dictinary defines it as a period of physical exercise that you do to keep fit.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as:

  1. a practice or exercise to test or improve one's fitness for athletic competition, ability, or performance

  2. a test of one's ability, capacity, stamina, or suitability

  3. an undertaking or plan intended to resolve a problem of indebtedness especially in lieu of bankruptcy or foreclosure proceedings.

I thought definition 2. of Merriam-Webster is close to the meaning of “get a workout” used in the above quote, and guessed “getting a workout this year” means “is going to be examined or studied.”

Is my interpretation right? Is this expression frequently used in this sense as against ‘physical exercise or test’ as an established idiom?

  • 1
    To get a workout isn't at all a common turn of phrase. MW's first definition is by far the most common meaning, and you usually have a workout (an activity you may undertake unprompted/unsupervised), or you're given a workout by a trainer or tester. The New Yorker usage is figurative, similar to "will be put through its paces". Of course, there is no "special tool" for printing diaereses - it just means if there was such a thing it would be used and tested a lot (and if coöperate and reëlect were written that way, which obviously they aren't anyway! :) Apr 28, 2012 at 2:54
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    Fumble - This phrase is actually quite common in (conversational) American English; it probably comes up at least once a month in my experience. @choster has stated the meaning as it's generally used: that something is being used more often / more strenuously than usual, and may be pushed to the limits of its endurance.
    – MT_Head
    Apr 28, 2012 at 3:51
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    @MT_Head, indeed, looking at the obesity statistics, it seems like everything in this country gets a workout except its inhabitants.
    – choster
    Apr 29, 2012 at 2:19
  • The NOAD captures the sense it's normally used in both literally and metaphorically: "a session of vigorous physical exercise or training."
    – zpletan
    May 3, 2012 at 21:17

1 Answer 1


I take it as a metaphorical expression of Merriam-Webster's first definition: the diaresis will be used more often than usual, perhaps repeatedly and without pause, as you might subject a flabby muscle to a physical drill. I could also take it as the second, but it is a test in the sense of a trial of endurance after frequent use, not in the sense of scholarly scrutiny or academic evaluation.

I hear it often enough in conversation, e.g. This spring has been awfully wet; my galoshes have gotten a real workout, or With three kids in college, my check-writing hand gets quite a workout. We can have it in reverse as well, with something challenging giving us a workout: These fare changes are giving my brain a workout it hasn't had since algebra or These foreign names are giving my tongue a workout.

  • It’s spelt diaeresis, diæresis, or dieresis, but never *diaresis.
    – tchrist
    May 3, 2012 at 21:22

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