or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Warm and Fuzzy

I was reading a New Yorker article about Nigella Lawson when I was arrested by this sentence:

She was wearing a black suède jacket, a long black skirt, black suède boots, and a blue cashmere sweater.

I confess to never having seen that accent dangling over the word "suede" before in that context. It originally belonged there, to be sure: the word is French for "Sweden".

There isn't one overriding rule regarding the accents in foreign borrowings. At the risk of generalizing (a risk I've gladly taken before):

Accent marks are often left in place if they reduce confusion: "résumé", for instance, keeps its accents so we know it isn't the disyllablic "resume". Newer adoptions tend to keep them: "détente" usually has its accent mark, but that's slowly disappearing, I think. Uncommon words, words which we usually italicize to point up their foreignness, retain all accent marks, as in "Gemütlichkeit". Other words seem to be correct with or without: "aperçu" and "apercu" are more or less interchangeable, as long as you pronounce them both as if that cedilla were still there. And finally, words that have been in the language for a long time generally dispense with them altogether through custom: "première" used to be spelled with the accent, but now it hardly ever is (though you can see the mark in action here), and likewise "role", which is still occasionally--rarely, and usually only in British English--spelled "rôle".

This is clearly the case with "suede". Googling the word with its accent intact and searching through English-language pages only doesn't give any hits referring to the fabric within the first 150 listings (that's the point at which I got bored with the exercise), so I think it's fair to say that "suede" no longer carries an accent grave in English.

If nothing else, you have to admire the New Yorker's editors' devotion to their stylebook.


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