July 29, 2010

Röck ön, diaeresis


For those who have always puzzled over heavy metal bands’ umlaut obsession, Michael Schaub at Bookslut points us to this illuminating Wikipedia link for your delectation:

A metal umlaut (also known as röck döts) is an umlaut mark that is sometimes used gratuitously or decoratively over letters in the names of heavy metal bands, for example those of Mötley Crüe and Motörhead. Among English speakers, the use of umlaut marks and other diacritics with a blackletter style typeface is a form of foreign branding intended to give a band’s logo a Teutonic quality. It is a form of marketing that evokes stereotypes of boldness and strength commonly attributed to ancient north European peoples, such as the Vikings and Goths; author Reebee Garofalo has attributed its use to a desire for a “Gothic horror” feel.The metal umlaut is never referred to by the term diaeresis in this usage, nor is it generally intended to affect the pronunciation of the band’s name.

These decorative umlauts have been parodied in film and fiction. In the mockumentary film This Is Spinal Tap (spelled with an umlaut mark over the n), fictional rocker David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) says, “It’s like a pair of eyes. You’re looking at the umlaut, and it’s looking at you.”

Apparently Spinal Tap‘s umlaut over the a consonant was really pushing the envelope for diacritics. But, there is precedent. This usage can be found, according to Wikipedia, “in the Jakaltek language of Guatemala and in some orthographies of Malagasy, a language of Madagascar.”

Which is, presumably, where the original band members where from.

Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.