Monday, June 25, 2012

We Now Resume Our Normal Spelling

The point of this ad from one of my local papers was to say that sorting paper résumés is as out of date as typing on typewriter:

Black and white newspaper ad of a 60s-dressed woman typing on a typewriter, headline reads Of course I don't mind staying late to sort resumes
But the thing I noticed was the use of the word "résumés" without accents. I realize this is a common way to spell this French word, but in this headline -- which suffers from a deficit of clarity to begin with -- it's almost unintelligible.

I'm extra-sensitive on this point, since a proofreader I work with constantly adds both accents in the help-wanted section of a publication I produce. In the midst of a bunch of classified ads, I find the accents less important for clarity, but in a headline in a full-page ad that ran in the front section of a newspaper, I feel differently.

I admit, the accents generally strike me as a bit precious, especially the first one. To me, the final accent is helpful to the reader for pronunciation and differentiating from the verb "resume." But, of course, dropping one accent while keeping the other would be a mishmash of convenience.

An excellent comment thread among grammar curmudgeons on makes many interesting arguments for and against the use of the accents. Some authoritative-sounding commenters claim that when a word moves into English, it automatically loses its accents because we don't use 'em in this here part of the world. Others make my point -- that résumé needs the accents in order to be clear. Some even advocate for the one accent approach.

Many commenters explain the loss of the accents because it's hard to type them when using a computer. One commenter shared this minor nightmare:

Whether the accents are appropriate or not I wouldn't recommend you use them. I've submitted several resumes thru job sites and just found out that they convert e's with accents over them to i's. So everywhere I spelled resume with accents came out as risumi. That looks really dumb when you're applying for professional level positions!!
Another commenter adds this fairly definitive point:
For what it's worth, the current edition -- the Fourth -- of the American Heritage College Dictionary (which, as suggested by its title, gives preference to American usage practice), lists resumé first, followed by resume, and then résumé.
And then there's the Wikipedia to the rescue:
A number of loanwords are sometimes spelled in English with an acute accent used in the original language: these include sauté, ... café, touché, fiancé, and fiancée. Retention of the accent is common only in the French ending é or ée, as in these examples, where its absence would tend to suggest a different pronunciation. Thus the French word résumé is commonly seen in English as resumé, with only one accent (but also with both or none).
It is common to see English uses of those other French words without their accents, of course. Cafe and fiancee don't bother me when they're unaccented, because everyone knows what they are on sight and how to say them. Saute, fiance, and touche, however, always rankle me.

The long-term solution is spelling reform, of course. Let's see. Rezuhmay, anyone?


Michael Leddy said...

I prefer the two accents but acknowledge that the other forms are everywhere. I think that computers make it easier to use proper diacritical marks, but if they can be lost in translation (so to speak), a defensive resume might be the best choice.

I wonder whether éto i has something to do with the way Microsoft Word does special characters. The online version of my local newspaper often has apostrophes and quotation marks that look like gibberish. Word at work?

Steve Florman said...

I prefer the two accents, but it takes me longer to look up how to type the accented e (or to insert the symbol, especially in Word 2010, or to remember whether it's an acute or grave) than it takes me to get over it when there's no accent.