< meta charset="UTF-8"> Haibun Today: A Haibun & Tanka Prose Journal

A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 13, Number 4, December 2019

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Teri White Carns
Anchorage, Alaska, USA

Umlauts, their bicentennial

In 1819 Jacob Grimm creates the two-dot umlaut. The same sound appears earlier as a miniature “e” next to a vowel. I imagine Jacob telling the fairy tale mill to grind umlauts, and it grinds pair after pair of the dots. He sticks them here, there and everywhere. The umlauts creep into Finnish and make this word:


Even the Finns can hardly say it, let alone explain it. Oh, they try, and arrive at “Doubting: not even with his/her ability to not to make a thing unsystematic,” which leaves the hearer twisting among a wilderness of negatives and umlauted vowels.

Grimm has piles of the double dots left over for the Estonians, who use them to make “jäääär,” meaning “the edge of the ice.” They could have made jäääär mean something like “hello” or “please,” something you could use all the time every day. But then they would need baskets and boxes of umlauts, as many as Grimm's mill could grind.

pepper grains
awakening rice
on the tongue