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Why is W Called ‘Double U’?

Do you ever wonder about the names of letters? Generally, they are straightforward: A is ay, B is bee, C is see, and so on. But there is one very peculiar name: W = Double U. Did you ever wonder why?

The letters U is a fairly modern innovation. In Rome it was often carved as V to avoid the difficult-to-carve rounded bottom.  Even in Old English manuscripts you see it drawn this way.  So V years ago was a U named “you” (or “ewe”).  So, if you put two of these together, as in W, what do you get? Right.

The interesting thing about the sounds these three letters, U, V, and W, represent, is that one often morphs into one of the others over time. The sounds [u] and [w] (nothing but lip-puckering) are essentially the vowel and consonant variation of the same linguistic sound (phoneme), so that periodically you will find old typesetting with no W, so that west is spelled uest and woman, uoman.

4 Responses to “Why is W Called ‘Double U’?”

  1. James Wang Says:

    good article
    wonder there are no other comments

  2. Mashkioya Says:

    I’ve also seen old type-set documents where they just used two Vs. And it is also quite interesting to read old literature such as Spenser’s Faerie Queene in which V and U are treated as the same letter (as in Latin), V appearing initially and when capitalised, and U being used within words. The same goes for I and J as well. Such spelling can be confusing at first, but one soon gets used to it.

  3. Virginia Anderson Says:

    Another interesting evolution of “W” is that this does not even exist in a traditional Spanish alphabet. Modern Spanish does use the letter — but essentially only for borrowed foreign words and names. This means I have old-style dictionaries with separate chapters for the letters “CH”, “LL”, “Ñ”, and “RR” – but no chapter for “W”

  4. Mariel van Hees Says:

    In French it’s called a Double V. In Dutch it’s neither U or V but pronounced “Wey”. I think that’s because the Dutch language already has many double letters in words to produce short vs long vowel sounds that saying Double Double U or V is just plain silly.

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