I found that diaeresis is used on the word reelection in the following sentence of the article titled “Rational Irrationality” in the New Yorker magazine (April 27).

This morning’s news that economic growth slowed markedly between January and March is an unmitigated bad for Obama and an unmitigated good for Romney. The President’s reëlection chances largely hinge on being able to point to evidence that the economy is finally improving.

As I don’t think I’ve come across diaereses being used in the articles of today's journals so often (correct me if I’m wrong), I checked dictionaries at hand and online.

Cambridge Dictionary resisters reelection with neither hyphen nor diaeresis on ‘ee’, same as Merriam Webster.

Both Oxford Dictionary online and Oxford Advanced English Learners’ Dictionary register ‘re-election’ with the former coming with the following note:

Spell ‘re-elect’ with a hyphen after the first e. Other words beginning with re- that have a hyphen are re-educate, re-emerge, re-enact, re-enter.

Yet the New Yorker used diaeresis on ‘reelection’ as shown above, and their separate article titled “The Curse of the Diaeresis’ (April 2) stated:

“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.”

I find no consistency of the use and non-use of hyphen and diaeresis among Cambridge Dictionary, Oxford Dictionaries and New Yorker magazine.

What is the standard rule or custom of using, not using a hyphen and a diaeresis on the words including ‘ee’ ‘oo’ letters?


5 Answers 5


This is hardly some sort of unique New Yorker idiosyncrasy. Rather, it’s merely an older tradition.

Writing Zoë, Noël, reëlect, coöperate, zoölogical, mosaïc, aïoli, cacoëpistic, hyperoödon, haliæëtos, naïve, Moët, naïveté, Thaïs, monoïdeism, panzoöty, Laocoön, langue d’oïl, Boötes, faröelite, caïque, &c is actually an older orthographic style.

This style fell into disuse as people subjected to the infinite tyranny of typewriters (and their ASCII derivatives) bereft of proper diacritics got out of the habit of using things they didn’t know how to type. I rather hate seeing *Zoe written by people who are too lazy to write Zoë properly.

On the other hand, English has never used a diaeresis in words like coalesce, where one might expect *coälesce to differentiate from something related to coal. Similarly, we’ve never used *reäct for react. There is also the tendency to drop hyphens and diacritics from assimilated words. Notice it’s just zoology in modern writing, not the original zoölogy, and you almost always see dichroic and dichroous instead of dichroïc and dichroöus.

I’d sometimes rather see a diaeresis than a hyphen myself if it comes to that. I actually prefer writing coöccurrence, coössify, demosaïcking, reënact, reïnvent (not a rein-vent, whatever that might be), reëxamine, intraätomic, pal(a)eoöceanography, proöxidant, &c to make it clear what’s afoot, where others might use a hyphen or nothing at all. I’m trying to be considerate for the reader, and consistent.

And yes, coopering is a real word, one with three syllables, though, not four. Hence the preference of writing coöperate to show that it has four syllables instead of just three, and is unrelated to coopers.

J.R.R. Tolkien, a very careful writer of English from a slightly earlier era than our own, uses the diaeresis a fair bit in his writings. Consider the raven Röac from The Hobbit; its name is meant to be bisyllabic onomatopoeia for its croaking cry (or is that croäking? :). Or namarië, Eärendel, or Manwë; written using Tolkien’s own phonetic tengwar script, these need no markings to indicate those vowels should be pronounced, but as an aid to English-speaking readers using the Latin script and used to “silent” letters, it helps to mark these explicitly.

The hyphen can be used in lieu of the diaeresis when applying to a word beginning with a vowel a productive prefix that ends in a vowel, such as Tim Lymington's example of coöperation / co-operation (in his answer). However, the hyphen cannot be use as a substitute for a diaeresis in words like Zoë or Chloë, naïveté or langue d’oïl, in which there is no prefix to split off.

By the way, the word diaeresis is so spelled in the Unicode Standard. You will find older books that spell it diæresis, which uses yet another non-typewriter letter. And it is not uncommon to find it spelled dieresis in American writing.

  • 2
    Interesting that dropping the diaresis on zoology (which happened comparatively early) has altered the pronunciation. To reflect what people actually say, it should really be zoo-ology; but of course, that hyphen/diaresis would also be dropped... Commented May 2, 2012 at 22:22
  • 1
    @TimLymington People say zoo-ology not zo-ology? Really? What people? A zoo is a zo-ological park, not a zoo-ological park. I never thought of it otherwise. Damned good reason to keep the diaeresis. Sheesh.
    – tchrist
    Commented May 4, 2012 at 22:01
  • 11
    @tchrist, I've only ever heard it pronounced by American English speakers as "zoo-ology" and not "zo-ology".
    – Ben Lee
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 16:19
  • 2
    Just read 'zoölogical' in the book White Waters and Black, published 1928. Commented Apr 21, 2013 at 19:14
  • 8
    @BenLee I've only ever heard it pronounced by British English speakers as "zoo-ology" and not "zo-ology" as well. Commented May 9, 2014 at 10:43

Different publications have different style guides, and so have different ways of spelling words. The New Yorker has one of the most idiosyncratic, which differs markedly from most mainstream publications. The "New Yorker" style is characterized by long, periodic sentences, archaic, overprecise spellings (focusses instead of focuses, for example) and the ubiquitous diaeresis. Given the usually excellent quality of their prose, however, I am inclined to overlook these things.

The point is, Newsweek, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New Yorker and most other publications all have different ways of tackling spelling, hyphenation, citations, and so on, the same way different speakers have different accents, cadences, and vocal modulations.

  • “Manual of Style and Usage,” the stylebook used by the editors and writers of the New York Times provides the definition of dieresis under the heading of ‘accent marks’ as ‘In the Latin languages, the dieresis, also consisting of two dots is used to indicate that two adjacent vowels are pronounced separately, or that a normally silent final consonant is pronounced, but the manual doesn’t refers to dieresis on English language, nor describes any policy about how they handle it. Commented May 4, 2012 at 2:17

The rule for a diaeresis is simple: it is a pronunciation mark, used to indicate that two vowels do not form a dipthong, but should be separated. In most cases, the same effect can be achieved by using a hyphen. There is a growing tendency to use neither, but this is inconsiderate to the reader who may not immediately see whether cooperation refers to co-operating or coopering.

  • 4
    In particular, the hyphen can be used in lieu of the diaeresis when applying to a word beginning with a vowel a productive prefix that ends in a vowel, such as your example of coöperation / co-operation in your answer. However, the hyphen cannot be use as a substitute for a diaeresis in words like Zoë or Chloë, naïveté or langue d’oïl, in which there is no prefix to split off.
    – tchrist
    Commented May 4, 2012 at 22:26

Garner in Modern American Usage has a good entry on this. He says:

One well-known publication, The New Yorker, has the notable idiosyncrasy of using diacritical marks¹ that most publications have abandoned, especially the diaeresis in place of old-fashioned hyphens² (or nothing at all). While most American dictionary recommend cooperate, The New Yorker insists on coöperate—e.g. “I think if people are open and coöperate you get there faster.” Ken Auletta [...]
Other example of diaeresis emerge frequently in the magazine—e.g.:

  • [...]

  • “Forget superheroes, or the reëmergence of wizards with beards down to their belts.” Antony Lane, "Looking Back," New Yorker, 16 Dec. 2002, at 106.

  • [...]

This house style is out of step with general American usage.

For more examples of diacritical marks usage see directly the book I have cited.

¹ Diacritical marks, also known as “diacritics,” are orthographic characters that indicate a special phonetic quality for a given character.

² Emphasis added.


The specific instance that prompted you to ask this question is an experimental exception and not part of established rules of grammar.

I am not aware of a rule that substitutes the use of hyphen with that of a diaeresis. (Have to check about the 'nai' + 'ive', though.) If there indeed is one, it is not applied any more in today's (non-fiction) writing.

Currently, the tendency is to drop the hyphen either by joining the words, where you can, or leaving them apart, without causing ambiguity.

  • 2
    I don't understand your last sentence. Re isn't a word (in this context), and a diaeresis or hyphen is used precisely where joining the prefix to the word would be misleading or ambiguous. Commented Apr 29, 2012 at 11:19
  • Agreed, prefixes and suffixes are not words. Please read as prefix-word/ word-suffix or accordingly.
    – Kris
    Commented Apr 29, 2012 at 12:45
  • 4
    This is not an experimental expection. It is indeed part of a standard rule, mostly forgotten thanks to the tyranny of idiot-ASCII.
    – tchrist
    Commented May 4, 2012 at 22:06
  • @tchrist ASCII is deliberate minimalism -- it's the original stupidizer. Designing with constraints is not easy.
    – Kris
    Commented May 5, 2012 at 8:42

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