Perhaps having heard that we’re taking a month off, listener Paddy has kindly stepped into Helen’s etymologising shoes, as it were, and not only presented a philological question but also its answer. Obviously if you all did that, we would be out of business; but once in a while it is most welcome. Says Paddy:
As a fellow Person Who Thinks They Are A Bit Clever And What Likes Words Too, I frequently get asked “Why’s it called a double-u when it’s actually two ‘v’s?” and am getting tired of hiding the bodies of people who ask such a dim question, so if you don’t mind, I thought I’d provide the answer.
The letter W comes from a 9th century German practice of writing the ‘wuh’ sound with two ‘u’s – so “Edward” would have been “Eduuard”. The v-like shape was used to represent capitalisation. The two became one letter by around the fourteenth century, probably due to quick writing linking them together, although the french still call it ‘double-v’. But then again, they’re French. Early printers did separate the letters, but it had become a definite and accepted letter in its own right by the eighteenth century. Isn’t it OBVIOUS? People can be so dim sometimes.
Gormless, Paddy, quite gormless! Who are these clowns you associate with that have no comprehension of medieval printing developments? Tsch.