Saturday, June 19, 2010

Much ado about fadas

Part of the problem with being a pretentious prick is when technology obstinately reminds you that you’re a knob, and punishes you for it:

'Seÿffffffffffe1n' over e-mail, but 'Sully' to my friends

My name is Seán. Not Shaun, or Shawn, and certainly not Sean. It's Seán.

I’m not sure when exactly I decided that rendering my name “Seán” without the fada over the “a” was wrong, but I suspect that I became more insistent about it during the time I spent in the States, as I tried to impress upon the local ladies of Pittsburgh that I was interesting and exotic (“You have an accent? That’s hot. We should make out”).

It’s likely that I’m a stickler for the fada because Seán is such a common name on the Emerald Isle (in both senses of the word). I figure being one of the breed who is fussy about having it included separates me somewhat from those who don’t care (and those who insist on its omission).

It's not an unreasonable insistence – it's only people from Ireland that are expected to know about the sanctity of the fada. If I’m asked to spell my name by a person who sounds like a paddy, I’ll tell them “S, E, A, fada N”, and listen for the derisive light scoff. I don’t expect non-nationals to ‘get’ the fada, so I don’t subject them to it unless they bring up how wrong my name looks written down (a Polish colleague refers to me as ‘Soen’ in all e-mail correspondence, and it’s starting to grow on me.)

While I'm keenly aware that not everybody should know what to do with the fada, I've yet to get it through my thick skull that websites will often freak out when I spell my name the "right" way. When flying from New York to Pittsburgh, I suffered unnecessary delays because my boarding pass said "Se n". Being exceptionally slow to learn, a month later I got a boarding pass that said "Sen". Rather than fixing the root cause of the problem, I just got better at giving bitesize explanations for the fada and how computers don't like it. (I mentioned the 'Sen' thing back in February 2007)

As my garbled name in the screenshot above attests, putting a fada into an online form is a bit of a gamble, as there's no telling what will come out on the other side. A messy e-mail header is harmless enough, but when the bouquet of roses I sent my ladyfriend from came with a lovely note signed by somebody called "Se??????n", I felt it spoiled the sentiment somewhat.

After giving my (US-based) girlfriend some casual abuse over her 'inability' to spell my name correctly online, she jumped on the fada bandwagon. Including the fada is a cinch on Irish / UK keyboards [just hold down the Alt-Gr key when pressing a vowel], but US keyboards lack this functionality. It turned out that every time she wanted to casually mention my name in an e-mail that I would never see, she would have to go to my Facebook profile and copy/paste the troublesome character, or use the 'insert symbol' feature on Word.

Until I had to send an e-mail to a lecturer with a US-keyboard, I never truly appreciated what a pain in the arse this was, and despite my repeated insistences that I'm reformed and no longer demand to see the 'a' in my name wearing its proper headdress, she and a few of my close friends go to the bother anyway, in a uniquely touching display of my monomania taking precedence over their convenience.

I'm a little torn on this whole 'fada' business. As a pedant, I want things to be done right, but I appreciate that something of such little import should scarcely warrant a moment's thought, let alone an anguished blog entry. I know that more often than not, using a fada online is throwing a spanner in the works, but shouldn't web developers have adapted to their world-wide-userbase by now? It's tough enough for us Irish folk on the Internet ("Come on now Seœ∂fµn", the websites condescend to me, "every developed nation in the world has a postal code, just fill yours in and we can both get on with our day"). Shouldn't we Irish be able to enjoy the small dignity of being able to spell one's name as it's intended?

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