The New Yorker's odd mark â€” the diaeresis
Among the many mysteries of The New Yorker is that funny little umlaut over words like coÃ¶perate and reÃ«lect. The New Yorker seems to be the only publication on the planet that uses it, and I always found it a little pretentious until I did some research. Turns out, it's not an umlaut. It's a diaeresis. Defined this way: Linguistics a. A mark (Â¨) placed over the second of two adjacent vowels to indicate that they are to be pronounced as separate sounds rather than a diphthong, as in naÃ¯ve.
While I was still employed at the magazine, I sent an email to a copy editor, asking about the diaeresis. This was her reply:
A now retired proofreader, a really good one, said she used to bother the style editor, one Hobie Weeks (way before my time), about the diaeresis. She felt it was fussy. She said that Hobie Weeks, in the elevator, said he was on the verge of changing that style: he would be sending out a memo. But get this: he died before he had a chance. Since then, no one has felt strongly enough about the diaeresis to risk it.
Seriously, if I may defend it for a moment, we have a few options for these words, right? reÃ«lect, re-elect, reelect. The first one seems most elegant and has the most consistent application. Part of the point of having a style is not to have to make a decision about every single word; we can just follow the same rule with similar words. Probably no one would misread "cooperate" (we use a hyphen for "co-op"), but we'd have to reconsider all the co- and re- words, and different proofreaders would make different decisions, and it would be the end of civilization as we know it.
Maybe it's OK to be a conservative influence on the language if you're liberal in spirit. I hope so.
I like this very much, and have continued to use the diaeresis in my own writing. It is fussy. But it's the best of many bad alternatives.