Umlauts and Rock Bands

A way to indicate how one vowel could influence another when spoken aloud.

In linguistics, umlaut, which is from the German “sound alteration”, is a sound change in which a vowel is pronounced more like a following vowel or semivowel. Umlaut is a form of assimilation[1], the process of one speech sound becoming more similar to a nearby sound. The diaeresis, also known as the trema, and the umlaut are two different diacritical marks[2] that (in modern usage) look alike. They both consist of two dots ¨ placed over a letter, usually a vowel.

The umlaut was named by Grimm brother Jacob Grimm, one-half of the morbid storytelling duo. In 1819, he described “um” (around) and ‘laut” (sound) as a way to indicate how one vowel could influence another when spoken aloud. It was indicated by two dots above the vowel, which should direct the speaker to make an oo-ee sound.

Hard rock and heavy metals bands often use umlauts in the band name although it doesn’t, nor is meant to, change the pronunciation of the word. The first band known to do this was Blue Öyster Cult. They had been together since 1967 but settled on this name in 1971. The addition of an umlaut was suggested by Allen Lanier (keyboards, acoustic guitar) but rock critic Richard Meltzer claims to have suggested it just after Sandy Pearlman (band manager) came up with the name.

For Mötley Crüe, inspiration struck—as it often does—while under the influence. It was the early 1980s, and bandmates Vince Neil, Tommy Lee, and Nikki Sixx were imbibing Löwenbräu beer, a German beverage. The umlauts in the name seemed to strike a chord with them

I can remember it like it was yesterday. We were drinking Löwenbräu, and when we decided to call ourselves Mötley Crüe, we put some umlauts in there because we thought it made us look European. We had no idea that it was a pronunciation thing.

Vince Neil

Lemmy Kilmister, the leader of the rock band Motörhead, has said he took a cue from the Cult when naming his own group. Kilmister was not a grammar aficionado; he just thought the umlaut looked appropriately fierce for his aggressive style of music. Even the Harmonix Guitar Hero video game series introduced extreme Viking thrash metalhead Lars Ümlaüt.

The faux British rockers in the 1984 mockumentary “This Is Spınal Tap” took it to the next level and placed the umlaut over the “n” instead of the “i”.

Some other bands to use the umlaut (there are many) were: the American punk band Hüsker Dü, the American progressive metal band Queensrÿche, heavy metal group Green Jellÿ, the American сrossover thrash band The Accüsed, the California thrash metal band Beowülf, the American hip-hop band Dälek.

  1. Assimilation is a sound change in which some phonemes (typically consonants or vowels) change to become more similar to other nearby sounds. A common type of phonological process across languages, assimilation can occur either within a word or between words. It occurs in normal speech but becomes more common in more rapid speech. In some cases, assimilation causes the sound spoken to differ from the normal pronunciation in isolation, such as the prefix in- of English input pronounced with phonetic [m] rather than [n]. In other cases, the change is accepted as canonical for that word or phrase, especially if it is recognized in standard spelling: implant pronounced with [m], composed historically of in + plant.
  2. A diacritic (also diacritical mark, diacritical point, diacritical sign, or accent) is a glyph added to a letter or to a basic glyph. The word diacritic is a noun, though it is sometimes used in an attributive sense, whereas diacritical is only an adjective. Some diacritics, such as the acute ( ◌́ ) and grave ( ◌̀ ), are often called accents. Diacritics may appear above or below a letter or in some other position such as within the letter or between two letters.


Mental Floss

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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