The personal journal of author and photographer Jason Pettus

Ask An Editor: Why will 'naive' in American English sometimes have an accent mark and sometimes won't?

In which a professional book editor teaches English as a Second Language students the concept of “evolving” language, by looking at the history of this foreign term's American spelling

#english #language #grammar #spelling #lesson #teach #advice #history #evolving #morphing #foreign #appropriation

I was blessed to receive my COVID vaccination earlier in 2021 than many others, thanks to a selfless act by a friend; so to pay them back karmically, I'm doing volunteer work in English editing in various places all over the internet this year. One place is the subreddit English Learning, in which befuddled ESL students around the world post questions that no one else can seem to answer for them, many involving odd phrases, idioms, and other bizarre corners of English grammar and usage. I find many of them so interesting, I decided to start reposting them here to my blog. Note, however, that many other people usually reply to these questions as well, and that I'm only sharing my own answer since I have no one else's permission to do so. See my main index page for the full list.

On April 17th, 2021, redditor Lexdrillo asked:

What's the deal with naïve? Why not just naive? Why do you use an ï there? What's the point?

Good question! This word was originally borrowed directly from the French, which is a thing often done in English. But the more it gets used, the more people start normalizing it into an “American” spelling, until one day perhaps it'll just be permanently known without the mark.

There are a number of redditors here who always get bent out of shape when commenters say that something “has” to be done a certain way in English, and this is a perfect example of what they're talking about. The transition from naïve to naive is an example of English “evolving,” since we don't have a government committee that “officially” decides what “official” English is or is not. The people do; so if the people want to spell it without a mark, then the people will spell it without a mark.

The next time a pedant tells you that something in English “has” to be done a certain way, remind them, “You know of course that all the way until the 1930s, you 'had' to spell to-day with a hyphen, and those who didn't were considered uneducated slang-obsessed heathens.”

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