Most people know about my youngest daughter, Zoё, and her Celiac Disease. I was going to write about her Gluten Free diet and how that relates to dessert options I am trying to create for her, my sister, Jacque, and anyone else eating GF. Instead I found myself being schooled regarding something I’ve been wrong about for Zoё’s whole life.
First, some background – When I gave birth to sweet baby Zoё, and we gave her the two dots above her e, we thought we were being both sweet and smart. She could spell her name without the “y” but still have the Zo-ē sound. “Great!” we thought. “Everyone will just add the umlaut above her e whenever they write her name.”
We were either foolishly thinking because of just having given birth (without drugs, I might add) or totally self absorbed (no comment on that).
I had no idea how rarely my sweet Zoё would ever see her name properly written. Even in here I skip the “go to MSWord->create her name using symbols->copy->back to here->paste” steps. And I’m her Mother!
And forget finding it on mugs, pensils, keychains, charms, other tchotchkes that kids naturally want to buy. Her life will be a constant quest for finding things with her name on it, with or without the dots (to which, incidentailly, I actually can relate. Not to many Janice things out there when I was a kid).
FYI -There IS one kid’s mug out there that has “ZOE” (no dots) on it. Z has atleast 2 of them.
So, when I was writing my post here about GF desserts and what I am thinking about doing, I wanted to be sure I was spelling “umlaut” – what I had always told people was above her e if Zoё wasn’t there to say “dot, dot” – correctly. You know, so I could look really smart on here. That’s when I got my English lesson.
Apparently, Zoё’s dots are actually a diaeresis (pronounced /daɪˈɛrɨsɨs/ dy-err-ə-səs) and NOT umlaut. Here’s what I learned is the difference (apologies to any instruction purests out there, I liked wikipedia’s explaination better than Merriam-Webster’s mainly because they mention Albanian. Wahoo! Like Zoё amd Janice, that’s a rare thing.):
The diaeresis indicates that two adjoining letters that would normally form a digraph and be pronounced as one are instead to be read as separate, either as a diphthong or as two distinct vowels in two syllables. The diaeresis indicates that a vowel should be pronounced apart from the letter which precedes it. For example, in the spelling coöperate, the diaeresis reminds the reader that the word has four syllables co-op-er-ate, not three, *coop-er-ate. In English, this usage is becoming archaic but languages such as Dutch, French and Spanish make regular use of the diaeresis. By extension, the diaeresis is also used to denote similar distinctions, such as marking the schwa ë in Albanian.
“Um”+”laut” is German for “around/changed”+”sound”. It refers to a historical sound shift in that language. In German, the umlaut diacritic is found as ä, ö and ü. The name is used in some other languages that share these symbols with German or where the Latin spelling was introduced in the 19th century, replacing marks that had been used previously. The phonological phenomenon of umlaut occurred historically in English as well (man ~ men; full ~ fill; goose ~ geese) in a way cognately parallel with German, but English orthography does not write the sound shift using the umlaut diacritic. Instead, a different letter is used.
So, here we were telling folks for the last 7 years to put an umlaut above her e when it was a diaeresis.
Embarrassing, I know.
What’s really the problem is that we’ve told Zoё that it was an umlaut. Now I have to admit to her my mistake, and thus the illusion of my perfection will be gone forever.
I think she may have figured out I’m far from perfect a long time ago.