The mysterious diacritic mark

A few years ago, I was at the LCP working on an “experimental typography” project (yes! that’s how it was called…) for my degree , and I needed to find the name of an accent; the little circle you find atop the “a” letter in Swedish, Finnish, Danish and Norwegian alphabets.

I had to try and represent radio long waves typographically and I had decided to show them as they travel accross borders and countries to reach London. I had arbitrarilly decided to show long waves travelling from Madrid, London, Berlin and Oslo to reach London. Each country’s own language was represented by one of its typical accents; tilde for Spanish, circumflex for French, umlaut for German and “that ring atop the a” for Norwegian.
Duh, I couldn’t find a name for that ring, nor could my scandinavian friends, nor could my typography master teachers!! Decency (or was it crass lazyness?) dictated that if none of my famous teachers knew, I was not to find out elsewhere, thus “that ring atop the a” name has stuck to the mysterious accent for the past 3 years.
Well, as of today, the mysterious accent is not mysterious anymore and for what it’s worth, not an accent anymore either! Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia filled the void in my brain (Powered by Honda).

The letter “å” is often perceived as an “A” with a ring, interpreting the ring as a diacritic mark. However, the ring is not a diacritic. Rather, the letter developed as a form of semi-ligature of two consecutive “A”s. The letter represents a sound which according to historical linguistics has the same origin as the long /A:/ sound in German Aachen and Haar (Danish and Norwegian hår, English hair)… and more

I feel kind of tout chose now… I really wanted this previously-though-accent form of semi-ligature to have a name, which, I expected, would sound like the name of one of the ingredients of an eternal-life potion. Somebody find me another word as cool as ångström please!


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    Based in Paris & Tokyo, Paul Baron is a senior product manager for hire. Ex-@AQworks. Co-founder of cultural platform Tokyo Art Beat.
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