In elementary school I psychic the teacher telling me that the vowels were AEIOU and also sometimes Y and W. Yet I can"t think of a solitary word wherein W is used as a vowel. Are there any?

Michael S., Baltimore

Illustration by slug Signorino

Cecil replies:

Sure. Shot “how,” i beg your pardon is phonetically indistinguishable to “hou,” as in house. Ou and also ow space diphthongs — the is, two vowel sounds that kind of on slide together as soon as you speak them. W and also Y room often referred to as semivowels because they walk both ways, together it were, relying on the company they keep within the word. (Low morals space obviously a problem at every level of our society.) In cow, because that instance, W is a vowel, however make the word coward and you have the right to hear W functioning as a consonant. Likewise with Y become I in copy and copier. I could likewise expound on the vowel-likes, yet one more class that letters through an identity crisis, yet I think we’ve had sufficient angst because that one obelisk already.

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Dear Cecil:

Regarding your tower on the use of W together a vowel, the word Mr. S. Wanted to hear was cwm. There room of course others. Check out her OED. And hey, in general you’re OK.

— louis P., Chicago

Don’t think that token nicety is walk to save you, you skunk. Cwm, pronounced “koom” and signifying “mountain hollow,” is a borrowing native Welsh, in i m sorry tongue W is a vowel tantamount to oo (or probably we must say, double-U). Use of W this method in English is anomalous and is no what linguists have in mind as soon as they talk around W being a part-time vowel.

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How a mutation favor cwm obtained into a quite language favor English in the first place is a inquiry that bears some looking into. Except for persons who spend a most time prowling approximately mountain hollows, it’s beneficial chiefly come composers of crossword puzzle puzzles and other disreputable amusements, e.g., the “pangram.” A pangram is a sentence comprise every letter that the alphabet at least once and also ideally no an ext than once. You can see how cwm would come in handy in this regard. Because that example, us have:

Cwm, fjord-bank glyphs vext quiz

… i beg your pardon means, “Carved figures in a mountain hollow and on the financial institution of a fjord excited an eccentric person.” (“Vext,” the course, is an alternate type of “vexed,” and “quiz” method “an eccentric person.”) an in similar way we have:

Junky qoph-flags vext crwd zimb

… meaning, “Trashy flags through a architecture resembling the Hebrew letter qoph exasperated one Ethiopian fly whose customary habitat was an ancient Celtic stringed tool (crwd).” however it’s not like I’m informing you something you don’t currently know.