So over the last few months, I’ve been fighting off a recurring problem which I think impacts a large number of people. Some of you may have experienced this issue both at work and at home. At work, it is less frequent, but often makes people stop, look around, and wonder. At home at least you are in the privacy of your own home. I am of course talking about dieresis.
Dieresis is a problem that affects, on average, 873 million people per day…mostly Europeans. For those of us who are not European, and may be slightly concerned, I offer a translation. Dieresis is an umlaut. An umlaut you say? But I dreamed about one of those just last night! Those two precious little dots that appear above some but not all of the vowels in our language, causing a tightening of the mouth…a puckering if you will…to achieve perfect pronunciation.
Some of you possibly have lives and don’t dream about umlauts. Instead you may have day dreams of degree signs, affirmations of acutes, tirades about tildes, or dialogues about diphthongs. Some of you, a very small special some of you, may even be having an affair with a cedilla. But no matter which of these marvelous characters you ponder, they all serve the amazing purpose of turning words and sounds into the language that we speak every day. (Ponder that one for a moment.)
Most of us are pretty familiar with “special characters”. I’m not referring to Tinky Winky, or Binky Banky, or Plinky Plonky, or whatever the h*ll those creatures are called. I’m referring to those marvelous symbols that were not originally included in the 26 letter English alphabet. Perhaps you are familiar with the ampersand &, the at @, the pound # (or £ if you’re Region-2), the splat *, and the bang !. Those special characters do nothing to change the way a word sounds, but often represent words of their own (mostly because we are too lazy as a species to write “and” or “at” so someone developed the & and @). But having a language means that it must be adaptable. New words must be created on a regular basis to keep the discussions flowing. But how are we to create new words with only the 26 letters available to us?
There comes the true value and impact of the diacritical marks. Not only are the diacritical marks “special characters”, but they are “diacritical special characters”, DSC for short. DSC have allowed us to extend and expand the language to include words that may never have appeared. DSC allow us to change the pronunciation of a word, without changing the composite letters. DSC allow us to truly sound more pompous and pretentious than we ever could have been, unless we had been born in Europe. (*snaps to my European friends who sign away most of their rights once they become my friends*)
Many years ago while on a trip to Oregon I had a lovely dinner and social event with a group of work folks. I had traveled north to attend a leadership development class, and on the journey felt as though I should go amongst my people and drink. After a lovely dinner, the remaining group made our way to the local Chevy’s for margaritas. Chevy’s, being an authentic Spanish restaurant, offered us the opportunity to interact with people who speak somewhat differently than we do, and who natively make use of DSC in every-day language. I am of course talking about our friends in the south, our Spanish-Mexican-Or-Other-Spanish-Speaking-Country-Americans.
One such native speaker was our waitress/attendant/server/provider/food service professional. Her name, Consuèlla Maria Conchita Aloña Rodriguez Turner. I knew that this was a person I could ask a question that I had been waiting all my life to ask.
What on earth is a cedilla?
For those of you just joining us: Ç. It’s basically the letter C with a little curvy tail. Almost as though a comma and a C just got a little too close one night after several top shelf margaritas on the rocks no salt. Honey, if I had a comma shoved in me, I’d pronounce things differently too. (sorry, I just channeled Queen Latìfa for a moment)
Much to my chagrin, CMCART had never heard of the cedilla. I don’t know whether it is because I pronounced it “seh-DEE-uh” or whether she was from an area that simply did not have this DSC as part of their dialect, but none the less, my question remained unanswered. [note: I later discovered that the cedilla is NOT part of the Spanish dialect at all, therefore, I was totally off-base in asking CMCART]
So what to do with all of these special characters? Well, once you’ve had a few TSMotRnS (top shelf margaritas on the rocks no salt – honestly, if you would keep up with me I wouldn’t have to explain these things), the natural inclination is to start using DSC to make fun of people. And that we did. Thankfully, there were so few people sitting near us, we thought it easier to just make fun of ourselves by giving everyone their own special accented name.
I won’t go into the full detail of our naming scheme, but suffice it to say we made sure that everyone had at least one special character. To illustrate our most precious name, I will introduce Monte.
Now in the original form this would be pronounced: Mahn-tee, with the accent on the first syllable. Obviously, this name needed some special characters, and with so many at our disposal here’s what we came up with… Möñté. Three special characters (o-umlaut, n-yay, and the l’accent acute), all in the same name…transforming Mahn-tee into Moon-Yehn-Tay. As you can clearly see, inclusion of special characters transformed this normally boring and bland name into something posh, debonair, and ear-catching. Imagine the looks you would get yelling across the cafe…”Moon-Yehn-Tay…over here!!” (So much better than Mahn-tee…don’t you agree? *snaps to Monte for his willingness to be temporarily portrayed as a boring/bland-named individual, because he’s not boring or bland at all*)
Alas, not everyone can have such a special name like Möñté. Most of you will go through life with mundane-as-molasses-Martin’s, bland-as-butter-Bonnie’s or routine-as-rain-Rhonda’s. But just think of the possibilities for your career, or your life, if you could be Mare-TEEN-yah, BOON-yeee, or Ro-HOON-day. Great Las Vegas Showgirl names…