Those damn accent marks
This is how I get roped into these things. On Twitter, @palafo announces that The New York Times has openings for copy editors and invites candidates to send in their résumés. Then @paulwiggins upbraids him: “accent marks in the word resume show a tin ear. English is English.”
There is some back and forth, which you can look up yourself on Twitter, and finally @paulwiggins tweets, “when it comes to American usage I'll bow to whatever opinion @johnemcintyre has on the use of accents in resume.” So now someone’s trying to give me the power to bind and loose.*
Well, I don’t want it, but I can explain some things for the civilians who may be wondering why this is an issue.
Associated Press style does not use accent marks. Like much of AP style, that is not out of any reasoned-through principle. Their transmission system has simply been unable to produce them. This made things easy for copy editors, who did not have to know where to put accent marks in common words, and who were spared the burden of knowing where to put them in proper nouns—for instance, the orthographic nightmare of Czech.
But now, thanks to the version of Microsoft Word that we and many other newspapers use, it’s a simple matter: When resume comes up, just go to the top of the screen and click on Symbols, scroll through the charts of symbols until you locate the one with the properly accented lowercase e, click on that in two places, and resume editing. If the word occurs more than once in the text, you can always do search-and-replace.
Of course, you could switch to a setting that does use the accent marks, producing texts that put an accented e in cafe and decor and all manner of other words that have been anglicized since Fowler was a little boy. Then, of course, a copy editor has to go through and substitute unaccented letters to keep the publication from looking precious.
All this, along with the formatting for online and formatting for print, adds to the purely mechanical tasks that must be performed and which take away time that could be used for editing, for working to establish accuracy and clarity.**
As for resume, it is awkward that there is a completely different word with the same spelling, but the sense is almost always clear in context; I do think that adding the accent marks looks a little fussy. There are, however, less common words from French and Spanish that turn up and probably ought to have accent marks.
So here’s the ruling. Go to whatever dictionary is the basis for your house style. If it shows words adopted from foreign languages with accent marks, use them.
Unless you decide not to.
And now for something completely different: The word of the week is mephitic.
*Matthew 18:18, for you heathens who miss allusions because your parents allowed you to stay home from church.
**And don’t tell me how damn easy these functions are, thanks to the miracle of modern computerized text editing. They’re still additional mechanical tasks that add up cumulatively and distract people from more crucial concerns.