You probably know what a facade actually is. (If you don’t, we’ll get to that in a second.) But you’ll sometimes see it written as façade. Here’s why.
You can find not only the meaning of words but how they came into our language at the Online Etymology Dictionary. When you look up the word facade, you find it claims routes in French, Italian and Latin.
It means the face of something and you primarily use it to refer to the front of a building. Specifically, it refers to the side of a building or structure that faces a street.
I’ll give you this example of its use in a sentence from a WMAQ-TV story:
A Catholic Church in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood has seen two straight days of graffiti to its over 100-year-old facade as of Sunday.
So we now know what it means and you see an example of it being used properly.
But what about that funny-looking C?
The French and Italian versions of the word use it. So you’d spell it as façade. If you were to blow up that character, you’d see what resembles the number five with the top bar broken off and the remainder hanging under the letter C. We call that little diacritical mark is called the cedilla.
Diacritical marks let the speaker know that a certain letter’s pronunciation is different. In this case, in the word façade, the cedilla changes the pronunciation of that C. Instead of a hard K sound, like you’d use in cup, it becomes an S sound as in century.
So you pronounce façade like fah-SAHD.
In French, it gets a little complicated: The C is already soft when it precedes the vowels e, i, and y, so you type a regular C in those cases. But in front of other vowels in words that require the C to sound like an S, you’d use the cedilla, as in François.
In American English, we don’t really use cedillas. The exception comes when you’re trying to look more worldly or you’re writing for a more European audience.
One reason you don’t see many cedillas in use is that from a typesetting perspective, it was a bit more difficult to arrange that little mark.
Even today, it can be a challenge depending on which computer platform you use. I’m on a Mac, so I can create a Cedilla C by simply holding down the Option key while typing the C: Ç.
On a PC, it’s a bit more complicated than that, I recall.
Some web platforms offer special characters you can navigate through to find such a letter, but others don’t.
So in English, we trade in that funny-looking little C for the regular C. And everyone knows that facade and façade have the same meaning and pronunciation!
In case you didn’t already know, you do now!