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W is the twenty-third letter in the basic modern Latin alphabet. Its name in English ( , , , or ) is spelled double-u; the plural is double-ues, though this is rare.Brown & Kiddle (1870) The institutes of English grammar, p 19.
Double-ues is the plural of the name of the letter; the plural of the letter itself is written W's, Ws, w's, or ws.

History

Old English double V Post-Conquest: W and crossed-Vs form Hwair
A 1693 book printing that uses the "double u" alongside the modern letter
The earliest form of the letter W was a doubled V used in the 7th century by the earliest writers of Old English; it is from this digraph that the modern name "double U" comes. This digraph was not extensively used, as its sound was usually represented instead by the runic wynn ( ), but W gained popularity after the Norman Conquest, and by 1300 it had taken wynn's place in common use. Other forms of the letter were a pair of Vs whose branches cross in the middle. An obsolete, cursive form found in the nineteenth century in both English and German was in the form of an "n" whose rightmost branch curved around as in a cursive "v" (compare the shape of ).

The sounds (spelled with U/V) and (spelled B) of Classical Latin developed into a bilabial fricative between vowels, in Early Medieval Latin. Therefore, V no longer represented adequately the labial-velar approximant sound of Old High German. In later German, this phoneme became ; this is why German W represents that sound. In Dutch, it became a labiodental approximant (with the exception of words with EEUW, which have ), or other diphthongs containing -uw. However, in many Dutch speaking areas, such as Flanders and Surinamemarker the pronunciation is used at all times.

The ancient Phoenician letter shin had a W shape; the sounds and histories of the two letters, however, are entirely unrelated—shin represented or , and developed into the Latin alphabet S.

Usage

In Europe, there are only a few languages that use W in native words and all are located in a central-western European zone between Cornwall and Poland: English, German, Low German, Polish, Dutch, Frisian, Welsh, Cornish, Breton and Kashubian. English uses W to represent , German and Polish use it for the voiced labiodental fricative (with Polish using Ł for ), and Dutch uses it for or . Unlike its use in other languages, the letter is used in Welsh to represent the vowel as well as the related approximant consonant . English also contains a number of words beginning with a W that is silent in most dialects before a (pronounced) R, remaining from usage in Anglo-Saxon in which the W was pronounced: wreak, wrap, wreck, wrench, wroth, wrinkle, etc. (Certain dialects of Scottish English still distinguish this digraph.)

In the , is used for the voiced labial-velar approximant, probably based on English.

In the Finnish alphabet, "W" is seen as a variant of "V" and not a separate letter. It is however recognised and maintained in the spelling of some old names, reflecting an earlier German spelling standard, and in some modern loan words. In all cases it is pronounced /v/. In the alphabets of most modern Romance languages (excepting far northern French and Walloon), W is little used, it can be found mostly in foreign names and words recently borrowed (le week-end, il watt, el kiwi). When a spelling for in a native word is needed, a spelling from the native alphabet, such as V, U, or OU, can be used instead. The same was true in the Danish alphabet and Swedish until 1980 and 2006, respectively, when the letter was officially acknowledged as an individual letter.

The equivalent representation of the sound in the Cyrillic alphabet is Ў, a letter unique to the Belarusian language. The Russians, however, use the Cyrillic character В, ( the equivalent of V in the Latin alphabet), when transliterating "W".

Name

"Double U" is the only English letter name with more than one syllable, except for the occasionally used, though somewhat archaic, "œ" (its name is pronounced similar to "ethel"), and the archaic pronunciation of Z izzard. This gives the nine-syllable initialism www the irony of being an abbreviation that takes three times as many syllables to say as the unabbreviated form. Some speakers therefore shorten the name "double u" into "dub" only; for example, University of Washingtonmarker, University of Wyomingmarker and University of Western Australia are all known colloquially as "U Dub", and the automobile company Volkswagen, abbreviated VW, is sometimes pronounced "V-Dub". The fact that many website URLs still require a "www." prefix has likewise given rise to a shortened version of the original, three-syllable pronunciation. It is also the only English letter whose name is not pronounced with any of the sounds that the letter typically makes. Many others, however, prefer to pronouce the w as dub-u, reducing it to two syllables. For example, www would be six syllables rather than nine, being pronounced dub-u dub-u dub-u. The common method of pronouncing dub-u would almost be unmistakebly double-u.

Codes for computing

In Unicode the capital W is codepoint U+0057 and the lower case w is U+0077.

The ASCII code for capital W is 87 and for lowercase w is 119; or in binary 01010111 and 01110111, correspondingly.

The EBCDIC code for capital W is 230 and for lowercase w is 166.

The numeric character references in HTML and XML are "W" and "w" for upper and lower case respectively.

See also



References

  1. "W" Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (1989); Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged (1993).



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