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Word of the Every So Often

July 17, 2024

discrepant:  (adj.)  not in agreement; incongruous.  Why it isn’t obvious that the candidate is being discrepant with the truth is beyond me.

Cartoon of the Week

37 Bear Feet.jpg

Bobo had never liked walking around in his bear feet.


Double U


W is the only letter in the English alphabet to be multi-syllabic, but it’s weirdness doesn’t stop there.  You remember back in school when you were learning the alphabet, and, by default, the vowels?  “Now children, repeat after me:  A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y and W.”  OK.  I get the Y.  It’s used all the time as a vowel.  You can’t fly without it.  But W?  Forced to give an example of a word that used only W as a vowel, Mrs. Bimbaum announced that spelling was over for the day and we should now open our math books.


What Mrs. Bimbaum didn’t know, or at least didn’t want to explain to first graders, is that W is technically a “semivowel,” which is also called a “glide.”  And that’s because it falls into that weird category of being both a consonant and a vowel.  Take the phrase, “How wonderful!”  The W in “how” is a glide, acting more like a vowel, and in “wonderful” the W acts like a consonant.


Using W as a vowel is a Welsh thing.  Wales may be part of the British Empire, but they don’t necessarily speak the Queen’s English.  And it is from the Welsh that we get pretty much the only two words in the English language that only have a W for a vowel:


cwm – pronounced “koom,” more or less, which is a steep sided mountain valley, and...

crwth – pronounced “krooth,” which is an ancient stringed instrument from, of course, Wales.


In both cases the W is pronounced akin to a double (or long) O.


Then there are the words, few they may be, that really have a double U in them.  Not just two U’s, but two U’s side by side.  The most common is vacuum (which, of course, is the Hoover in your closet), followed closely by continuum (which is a continuous sequence, in this case of U’s).  And then there are the lesser known ones, such as risiduum (a chemical residue), triduum (a three day religious observance), and muumuu (the thing ladies wear in Hawai’i) which has double-double U’s. 


There are others, to be sure.  But when was the last time you used “duumvirate”?  It’s an alliance between two equally powerful people, if you were wondering.  Or fatuus?  That one we borrow from Latin, meaning “foolish fire,” or false hope.  And while you’re on false hopes, there’s “mutuum,” which is a legal term for a loan for consumption.


But here’s the thing.  All these words have a double U in them... but they don’t use a W.  I mean, seriously, if you have a double U in the alphabet and you don’t use it for an actual double U... then what’s the point?  For instance, why isn’t vacuum spelled vacwm?  If the W had the double O sound as it should when it’s used as a vowel, it would be pronounced just the same as the atmosphere outside the space station.  Same for continwm, more or less, and mwmw.


And that’s why, here at the Press, we’re going to start using W for double U’s, as it was intended.  We’re not sure who intended it, but that’s not going to stop us.  So next time we need a loan for consumption (whatever that might be), we’re spelling it “mutwm.”  And you should, tw.




Works Cited


“Is It True ‘W’ Can Be Used As A Vowel?”  8 Dec. 2020.  4 July 2024.


“Is ‘vacuum’ the only English word with two successive U letters?”  Quora.  4 July 2024.,distinctly%20rare%20duumvir%20and%20duumvirate.%22&text=Why%20do%20we%20use%20double,we%20have%20the%20letter%20w%3F


Why isn’t “curse” a curse word?

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