The Grammarphobia Blog

Why isn’t a W called a double v?

Q: Why is the letter W called “double u”? It looks like a “double v” to me.

A: The name of the 23rd letter of the English alphabet is “double u” because it was originally written that way in Anglo-Saxon times.

As the Oxford English Dictionary explains it, the ancient Roman alphabet did not have a letter “w.”

So in the 7th century, when Latin was first used in early Old English writing, it was necessary to invent a symbol to represent that sound.

At first, the sound was represented by “uu”—literally a double “u.”

It wasn’t written as a “v” because the letter “v” didn’t exist in Old English, as we’ve written before on the blog. And a double “v” would not have approximated the sound anyway.

The “uu” was replaced by another symbol in the 8th century, a character from the Runic alphabet called a “wyn.”

In the 11th century, the old “uu” form was reintroduced by Norman scribes in a ligatured (that is, joined) form, written as “w.”

But as the OED says, “It has never lost its original name of ‘double U.’ ”

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