Home Grammar Why the ‘w’ is named a ‘double u’

Why the ‘w’ is named a ‘double u’

Why the ‘w’ is named a ‘double u’


Q: Are you aware of a rhyme or riddle a few V who meets a W, and asks why he’s known as a Double U as a substitute of a Double V, and W replies that he’s “Double you”? I learn it as a toddler, about 50 years in the past, and may’t discover it wherever.

A: You’re fascinated with a poem that initially appeared in an American youngsters’s journal close to the top of the nineteenth century.

Right here’s a picture that accompanied the poem, “V. and W.,” by Charles I. Benjamin, within the Could 1885 subject of St. Nicholas Journal:

“Excuse me if I hassle you,”
Stated V to jolly W,
“However will you’ve the kindness to clarify one factor to me?
Why, wanting as you do,
People ought to name you double U,
After they actually should name you double V?”

Stated W to curious V:
“The rationale’s plain as plain may be
(Though I need to admit it’s understood by only a few);
As you say I’m double V;
And subsequently, don’t you see,
The folks say that I’m double you.”

However why, actually, is the “w” known as a “double u” and never a “double v”?

The twenty third letter of the English alphabet is named a “double u” as a result of it was initially written that manner in Previous English.

Because the Oxford English Dictionary explains, “When, within the seventh cent., the Latin alphabet was first utilized to the writing of English, it turned mandatory to offer a logo for the sound /w/, which didn’t exist in modern Latin.”

Latin as soon as had an virtually equivalent sound “initially expressed by the Roman U or V as a consonant-symbol,” the OED says, however “earlier than the seventh cent. this Latin sound had developed into /v/.”

“The only u or v subsequently couldn’t with out ambiguity be used to signify (w),” the dictionary explains, and so “the unusual signal for /w/ was at first uu.”

In any case, the “w” sound couldn’t have been represented by a double “v” as a result of the letter “v” didn’t exist in Previous English, the place “f” represented an “f” or a “v” sound, relying on vocal stresses, in line with the OED.

In early variations of “Cædmon’s Hymn,” which originated within the seventh century and is taken into account the oldest documented poem in Previous English, “w” is written as “uu” in uuldurfadur (superb father) and uundra (surprise).

In Previous English, the /w/ sound might seem earlier than the letters “l,” “r,” and “n,” in addition to earlier than vowels, however that utilization died out in Center English.

Because the OED notes, the silent “w” within the Trendy English “write” is a survivor of that utilization, as was the “w” in “wlonk” (splendid) in Sixteenth-century Scottish poetry.

Cædmon’s quick poem first appeared in writing in Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (“Ecclesiastical Historical past of the English Individuals”), a church historical past written in Latin round 731 by the Anglo-Saxon monk Bede.

Within the subsequent few years, scribes inserted Previous English variations of the poem in two copies of the manuscript, now generally known as the Moore Bede (734–737) and the St. Petersburg Bede (732-746).

Right here’s a flippantly edited model of the hymn within the Moore Bede (MS Kk.5.16 on the Cambridge College Library):

“Nu scylun hergan hefaenricaes uard / metudæs maecti finish his modgidanc / uerc uuldurfadur sue he uundra gihuaes / eci dryctin or astelidæ.”

(“Now we should reward the heavenly kingdom’s guardian, / the creator’s would possibly and his conception, / the creation of the wonderful father, thus every of the wonders / that he ordained at the start.”)

The textual content of the poem within the St. Petersburg Bede (lat. Q. v. I. 18 on the  Nationwide Library of Russia) differs considerably, however the usage of “uu” within the related phrases is comparable: uuldur fadur and uundra.

The 2 phrases are too faint within the Moore Bede to breed right here, however that is how they seem within the St. Petersburg Bede (uldur fadur is at the start and uundra is on the finish):

Later within the eighth century, Oxford says, the ƿ (or wynn), a personality within the runic alphabet, started changing the “uu,” and the ƿ ultimately turned the dominant letter representing the “w” sound in Previous English.

An Previous English model of the poem from the primary half of the tenth century, for instance, has the 2 phrases as ƿuldor fæder and ƿundra (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Tanner 10).

Within the meantime, in line with the OED, “the uu was carried from England to the continent, getting used for the sound /w/ within the German dialects, and in French correct names and different phrases of Germanic and Celtic origin.”

Then within the eleventh century, Oxford says, the “w,” a ligatured (that’s, joined) type of “uu,” was “launched into England by Norman scribes, and steadily took the place of ƿ, which lastly went out of use a few.d. 1300.”

Since then, the “uu” and and ƿ of “Caedmon’s Hymn” have usually been transcribed with “w” (as in wuldorfæder and wundra). Nonetheless, the phrases are spelled with a uu or ƿ in all seventeen Previous English examples we’ve examined.

Equally, the letter “w” incessantly seems in transcriptions of different Previous English writing wherein the letter was initially a “uu” or a ƿ. A standard instance is Beowulf, an epic poem that’s believed thus far from the early eighth century.

The oldest surviving Beowulf manuscript, which dates from across the yr 1000, spells the hero’s identify with a wynn: beoƿulf. Right here’s its first look within the manuscript (Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, f 132r on the British Library):

beowulf wæs breme (“beowulf was famend”)

Getting again to the letter “w,” we’ll let the OED have the final phrase: “The character W was most likely very early considered a single letter, though it has by no means misplaced its authentic identify of ‘double U.’ ”

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