Should You Use Accent Marks?
To accent, or not to accent? That is a good question.
Whether ’tis nobler to include diacritical marks (also called diacritics) is open to debate. Here are the arguments:
Most publishers who go by Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (and that’s most publishers) follow that resource’s lead: Any word it lists with an acute (forward-leaning) or grave (backward-leaning) accent mark, or a tilde (in Spanish, placed over the n) or umlaut (in German, sometimes used with u or o) or cedilla (in French, the little tail on a c) or any of several other markers for pronunciation and emphasis, retains that diacritical mark.
Others are selective about which ones they keep, or omit them altogether: Everybody knows cafe is pronounced “ka-fay,” not “kaif,” the reasoning goes, so the accent mark is extraneous, and who wants to keep track of when the last letter of “San Jose” is accented (when referring to the city in Costa Rica) and when it isn’t (when you mention the one in California) — though the letter is pronounced, not silent, in each case?
Furthermore, words with diacritical marks are just some among many from other languages adopted into English; why not assimilate them into our language by shedding them of all those extraneous appendages?
As with many typographical issues, newspapers are most likely among the printed media to eschew such emphasis. Web sites also tend to avoid them, because many content-management systems require typing a code in place of a letter; thus, café would be typed “café” or “café” (including the semicolon).
Of course, diacritical marks are useful in the case of words such as expose and resume that, depending on their meaning, are pronounced differently, but isn’t the context obvious?
But what about words not adopted into English but often used because their literal meaning is not easily translated, such as übermensch? And do you want to incur the wrath of heavy metal fans by referring to Motley Crue like that, without the ridiculous but requisite umlauts? (I can see the headline now: “Murdered Blogger Had Heckled Hair Band: Death by Spandex.”)
Want my advice? I’ll give it to you anyway: Follow Merriam-Webster. Minimize exceptions. That’s my möttö.
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