August 29, 2005

The modish macron

Now joining the heavy metal umlaut is, apparently, the modish macron. To the right is a picture of the awning sign of a local hair place, VŌG. I walk past it frequently, wondering who's supposed to be attracted by evocations of Vogon style, but I didn't realize it was part of a trend. Recently, Phillip Jennings wrote in with news of "a new downtown Minneapolis salon named all-caps-something-or-other BLŪ", and also a magazine called "Modern HŌM". I can't find any web presence for either of these, but I'll take Phillip's word for it.

If you know of any other examples, send them along. Extra points for cases that don't involve back vowels or capital letters.

This usage apparently imitates the conventions of pronunciation fields in (some) American dictionaries, rather than from the sort of diacritical associations involved in the heavy metal umlaut, or the more general allure of foreign branding. This may be related to Qwest's belief that badly faked dictionary pronunciations are authoritative. However, I imagine that the real motivation is the difficulty (both legal and psychological) of establishing a brand around common words like vogue or home.

Unfortunately, the modish macron doesn't help our campaign to promote the IPA through popular culture.

[Update: Jesse Sheidlower points out PŪR, and mentions

"another one I'm thinking of, that I can't quite place, that so irritates me that I deliberately mispronounce it because I feel so manipulated by the macron".

Marilyn Tarnowski points out the Sprint WordTraveler FŌNCARD.

Eric Bakovic writes that

I used to laugh at a commercial from the (early? mid?) '80s for a shampoo called FOHO ('For Oily Hair Only'), but a quick google search fails to confirm my possibly wrong memory that both Os had macrons over them. But this doesn't really disconfirm my memory either; the product's been (predictably) discontinued, and the few hits I got only had ASCII-text examples, no images of the labels or anything like that. I did discover that it used to be a Gillette product, but that's about it.

Aaron Dinkin writes that

I seem to remember that there was a brand of juice box called "Boku" - macrons over the O and the U, and it was pronounced "beaucoup".

More information about BŌKŪ can be found here .

And Chris Waigl gets extra points for reminding me of her 2/8/2005 post on IPA and exoticism, which includes the example of séxūal, with a lower-case u macron.]

[Update #2: David Low was the first of several readers to point out that in Episode 9F22 of The Simpsons, Sideshow Bob is shown with LUV and HĀT on his knuckles (like other characters on that show, he has just three fingers plus a thumb on each hand). This seems less like a "modish" macron and more like a creative way to update an old movie reference (picture here) for consistency with a cartoon anatomical convention.]

[Update #3: David Doherty also gets extra points for the lower-case o with macron in the Seattle nightspot TōST. ]

[Update #4: Ed Keer at Watch Me Sleep pointed out that the board game Hūsker Dū uses macrons, which the rock band Hüsker Dü changed into heavy metal umlauts; according to the wikipedia entry, "The name of the game is spelled with macrons to emulate Scandinavian letters with macrons over them (even if macrons are only used in hand-written text)", and the game was originally published that way in Sweden in the 1950s, so if there's any connection to the new VŌG for macrons, it can only be because of some childhood experience of today's marketeers.]

[Update #5: Rebekka Puderbaugh mailed in a link to Zōe's Flax & Soy products.]

[And reported by Andrew Malcovsky, the PAYDĀTA company in Vermont...]

[And here's another example, the Riō mp3 player, submitted by Kilian Hekhuis:


[And another: Cepacol, submitted by Mark Wayne:


Posted by Mark Liberman at August 29, 2005 08:45 AM