The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen, Please Welcome Flöyd McWilliams!

Radio station 92.3 KSJO switched from hard rock/heavy metal to a rather baroque Mexican format a few weeks ago. 107.7 KSAN ("The Bone") was a reliable 70's and 80's classic rock station (albeit with weekend late-night heavy metal shows), but now seems to be edging into KSJO's former turf. Last night I heard them play Queensrÿche's Empire on the radio.

Queensrÿche! I haven't thought of them in over a decade. Sometimes I hear an old song and am fondly reminded of my youth, but on other occasions I wonder what the fuss was all about. Songs with spoken word breaks suck, and songs that contain the spoken words by way of comparison really suck.

Enough of that nonsense and onto the real point of this post: I bet you didn't know you could stick an umlaut on top of a y, did you? I assumed there was no such character and Geoff Tate's crew would be forever dotless on the Web. But I did a Google search for "y umlaut" and found that ÿ will do the trick.

I also found the Wikipedia Heavy metal umlaut page, which tells you more than you could ever want to know about bands and the two-dotted appellation.

A heavy metal umlaut is an umlaut over a letter in the name of a heavy metal band. Umlauts and other diacritics with a blackletter style typeface are a form of foreign branding intended to give a band's logo a tough Germanic feel. The heavy metal umlaut is never referred to by the term diaeresis in this usage, nor does it affect the pronunciation of the band's name.

I'm sure you would be beaten senseless in the mosh pit just for saying the word "diaeresis." (Interestingly, the first time I saw this word used was in the Bridge Wörld, which attempted to emphasize the hoariness of a classic problem by noted that it came from "an era in which preëmpts had diaereses.")

The German word Umlaut means roughly sound change, being composed of um- (a prefix often used with verbs involving "change") and Laut, meaning "sound". Adding an umlaut indeed changes the pronunciation of a vowel in standard (non-Heavy-Metal) usage; the letters u and ü represent distinct sounds, as do o vs. ö and a vs. ä. Umlauts are used in several languages, such as Icelandic, German, Swedish, Finnish, Hungarian, and Turkish; the sounds represented by the umlauted letters in these languages are front vowels (front rounded vowels in the case of ü and ö). Ironically, these sounds tend to be perceived as "weaker" or "lighter" than the vowels represented by un-umlautted "u", "o", and "a", thus failing to create the intended impression of strength and darkness.

The English word diaeresis comes from a Greek word meaning "divide or distinguish". It is usually used to indicate that two vowels are to be pronounced separately, as in the name "Chloë" or the words "naïve" or "coöperation".

At one Mötley Crüe performance in Germany, the entire audience started chanting, "Moertley Crueh!" Queensrÿche frontman Geoff Tate stated, "The umlaut over the 'y' has haunted us for years. We spent eleven years trying to explain how to pronounce it."

Which of course leads to the conclusion that diacritical marks should be used only by trained professionals!

Just which language uses that accented y, anyway? Place your bets before reading further:

Queensrÿche went further by putting the umlaut over the Y in their name. (It is sometimes used in Dutch handwriting to display the Dutch Y instead of IJ/ij, and, very rarely, in French, e.g., in the placename L'Haÿ-les-Roses.) From a linguistic viewpoint, this might be regarded as an attempt at a diaeresis, rather than as an umlaut, were it not that there are no vowels to be pronounced distinctly.

(I believe that French uses diareses for the same purpose as English did until recently, to note that adjacent vowels are separate sounce. Thus: Noël.)

Can an umlaut perch on top of a consonant? Maybe in a hell-hole:

The spoof band Spin?al Tap raised the stakes in 1982 by using an umlaut over the letter N, a consonant. This is a construction only found in the Jacaltec language of Guatemala, although it is unlikely that the writers of This Is Spin?al Tap knew this at the time.

One thing I'll say about this Wikipedia article -- it's completely free of any nasty condescension.



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