Posted by: Jack Henry | December 16, 2021

Editor’s Corner: Cedilla and Circumflex

Good morning, everybody!

As I prepared to write about a few more diacritical marks today, I lined up my topics: cedilla and circumflex. I was excited because I was going to rhyme cedilla with the city Sevilla, where I went to school for a short while. Well, guess what? Cedilla rhymes with chinchilla! Now the song I was going to write about the cedilla in Sevilla has to be scrapped!

Most of today’s information is from an article on the Merriam-Webster web page, What is a diacritic anyway? We’ll look at two more marks, where they’re from, and what they mean.


The cedilla is the diacritical mark ( ̧ ) that is placed under the letter “c,” as in the spelling of the French words façade and garçon, to indicate that the letter is to be pronounced s, rather than k. Cedilla is from the name of the obsolete Spanish letter “ç” and is a diminutive form of ceda, itself from zeda, which once denoted the letter “z.”


Now this next one might be a little more confusing. First, I’ll provide M-W’s definition of this symbol.

Circumflex most commonly refers to the mark ( ˆ ), but in ancient times it designated other "bent" marks ( ⌢ or ˜ ). The name derives from a Latin verb meaning "to bend around," and it is used for the symbol placed above a long vowel to indicate a rising-falling tone in Greek and to mark length, contraction, or another particular pronunciation of a vowel in other languages, such as French—for example, the pronunciations of château (castle), crêpe, and maître d’ (master of).

KC – A side note here for you language-lovers. I was taught that in French, this mark meant the letter with the circumflex used to have an “S” before it. So, château was chasel in old French, castle in English; crêpe was crespe, which meant “wrinkled pancake” in olden days; and maître was maistre, or master in English. When you see a word in French with the circumflex, try the “S” trick. It might help you remember what the word means in English!

And I’m sure many of you are asking, “Isn’t that also called a caret?” This is where the trickiness comes into play. The caret and the circumflex accent are very similar looking, but they have different uses. A true caret is used in proofreading and editing (when you’re doing it by hand with a red pencil). It is used (and sometimes broadened) to indicate additional material needs to be added to the text at that point.

According to Wikipedia, “there is a similar mark, ^, that has a variety of uses in programming, mathematics, and other contexts. The symbol was included in typewriters and computer printers so that circumflex accents could be overprinted on letters (as in ô or ŵ). The character became reused in computer languages for many other purposes, and over time its appearance was enlarged and lowered, making it unusable as an accent mark.”

They go on to say that it is sometimes called a caret, but the true caret is the one used for proofreading. I think you’ll be forgiven if you forget to call it a circumflex, though.

Cedilla the chinchilla

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her

Technical Editor, Advisory

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