U or me?

Published 14th November 2011
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U or me?

The story of U is a more complicated one than may first appear. She has two ‘children’ in the form of V and W which were gradually born during the European Middle Ages. Before this she was compelled to do some of the leg work by herself; for example, in Ancient Rome U could represent either the familiar ‘u’ sound, or, when placed before a vowel, the sound ‘w’….you can still see this sound in the words ‘quiet’, ‘quest’ and ‘require’.

Before her children came, this letter looked very different…in fact she looked just like her future offspring V. This was back in Ancient Rome where Marcus Aurelius could expect his written name to look like this: MARCVS AVRELIVS.

What do you think of when you see the letters F and U together? Now, now! They have quite a shameful, vulgar association; however they share an honourable past! They were born out of the same letter from the ancient Phoenician alphabet when the Greeks adopted it; from the same letter the Greeks distinguished a consonant and a vowel for themselves and these eventually grew into our F and U.

The letter has a relatively uncomplicated sound. The two sounds that it makes (one long and one short) are heard in this short phrase; ‘mud rules’. With the long U, the tongue is in a high position towards the back of the mouth and for the short U the tongue is low and forward. The pronunciation of O can sometimes encroach onto its territory: ‘loot’ and ‘lute’ or ‘son’ and ‘sun’.

A baby might adopt the sound as it is attempting to talk; ‘oooo!’ and may sometimes attach an easy consonant to the front of it… ‘googoo!’

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