Is there any reason why we can't use the usual TeX

    > symbols for the accents, e.g.: \'{e} for acute accent,
    > \`{e} for grave, \"{a} for umlaut, etc.?

FYI, all of these *are* standard TeX commands. The shortcuts are also
now in matplotlib CVS (I added them after my post yesterday); as in
TeX, the curly's are optional, so you can do \"{o}, \ddot{o}, \"o or
\ddot o.