3.11.2007

Let the Mêlée Continue

As this thread on the Testy Copy Editors board shows, talks about diacritical marks can get heated, and there are good points made on both sides of the argument.

But I would like to go back to the original question posted on the ACES forum. Let's suppose that the boss decides to introduce accent marks at your publication. Where should you start?

Well, first of all, here are some of the diacritical marks you might be dealing with. It is also interesting to see which languages use diacritical marks to form new letters. The one that relates to the initial post on the ACES board is the ñ in Spanish.
Spanish: the character ñ is considered a letter, and collated between n and o.
I would say that diacritical marks do matter for proper nouns. At the local level, it would have to up to the reporters to make sure the names are spelled properly. For wire copy, a quick check on the Internet will show the preferred spelling for most names of famous names and places. The inevitable question that might arise is what to do with names that you think might need a diacritical mark, but you cannot verify it. Leave it. You cannot verify the spelling of every name that is in wire copy either. A good guide for this is The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage.
In the name of a United States resident, use or omit accent marks as the bearer does; when in doubt, omit them. (Exception: Use accents in Spanish names of Puerto Rico residents.)
So what about other words? Again, a good guide is The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage.
Some foreign words that enter the English language keep their accent marks (protégé, résumé); others lose them (cafe, facade). The dictionary governs spellings, except for those shown in this manual.
This is a simple rule: follow the dictionary. In my previous post about diacritical marks, I gave a list of words that do and do not get diacritical marks. Assuming that you are using The Associated Press' preferred dictionary, here is how those words would (or would not) be spelled with accent marks: facade, niche, melee, déjà vu, rendezvous, cafe, a la carte, bon appétit, coup d'état, masseuse, naive, vis-à-vis, aficionado, cliché, El Niño. (The words protégé and résumé would also keep their accent marks, according to the dictionary.)

So should you read wire copy to make sure these words (and others) that need accent marks get them? I would ask you this question: Do you read through wire copy to make sure words are spelled properly? If the answer to the latter is 'yes,' then the answer to the previous should also be 'yes.'


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