re: Is it true "W" can be used as a vowel? September 11, 1987

Cwm was even further hammered upon to make the euphemism quim, meaning a woman’s “valley”, her vulva.


  1. Words like cwm are Welsh. Even if they’re in English dictionaries, they’re not part of English proper.

  2. In diphthongs like cow, it’s hard for me to see that the w is acting like a true vowel. Per Wikipedia:

There is no ‘w’ vowel sound that’s distinct from other vowel sounds.

I don’t know about you, but I personally can’t pronounce a ‘w’ - even in ‘how,’ ‘now,’ or [brown] ‘cow’ - without that constriction.

IOW, I pronounce that ‘w’ like a consonant. Can’t speak for the rest of you.

Wow! When I first posted my comment on a 10 year old column, I had no idea I’d ignite such a storm of controversy! Thank u everyone for responding.(I guess “ignite” & “storm” is mixed metephor, please forgive.)

As for:the previous post: “I don’t know about you, but I personally can’t pronounce a ‘w’ - even in ‘how,’ ‘now,’ or [brown] ‘cow’ - without that constriction”…

The “w” sound in the above examples doesn’t seem any more constrictive than the “u” in “cute”,( which is considered a vowel, of course). The “how, now, cow” sounds are a cominbation of the vowel sounds from “cat” & “cute”… I think we’ve all been brainwashed by “a,e,i,o,u” mantra! :slight_smile:

I can and do. But, for whatever it’s worth, I spoke it as two syllables when I was a child. (And Jim Morrison obviously did so.) To me, “dire” and “dyer”, “hire” and “higher”, “lyre” and “liar”, “sire” and “sigher”, “tire” and “tier” (“one who ties”) are not homophones, and “snarl” does not rhyme with “quarrel”, unless exigencies of rhyme or meter demand syncope.

Lived in Central Maine (where the dialect is Canadian-influenced) until 14, then eastern Morris County, NJ; also with a degree of British (RP) influence from several sources. Opera trained. Unusually conscious of phonetics at least since age 11, probably because the first dictionary that was my very own used a non-IPA, non-Webster pronunciation guide and included a discussion in the front matter setting forth the reason for it. (I’d dearly love to find a copy, but I can’t recall the title, and all I specifically remember was that the pronunciation alphabet included a symbol resembling a lower-case beta or esszett, and that the last word was “zwieback”, right under a picture of a “Zouave”.)

P.S. To RTFirefly: Try pronouncing “noun”. Is there a consonant right before the 2nd “n”.? Try “noun” without the 2nd “n”. Sounds like “now” to me. Does it still seem like there’s a consonant there if its spelled different?

My old roommate and I got into a fight about how many syllables are in “Charleston.” I said two; he said three. I still think I’m right.

The all too obvious answer to the various “how many syllables” debate is: It depends on how u pronounce it!.. Of course, that’s no fun to argue about. :slight_smile:

To Skammer; Like your friend, I would tend to say “char-el-ston” but I can certainly see how someone (perhaps someone with a Charleston accent) would squeeze it into 2 syllables…
And yet I would never call out to a buddy, “Hey Char-rels!” That would sound a bit odd…hmmm, u got me thinking…

My mom taught me that in the 60s.

Quoth John W. Kennedy:

Or unless you’re anywhere in the world other than New Jersey.

And the case with “fire” becomes especially obvious when you realize that the adjectival form is “fiery”.

I’ve heard foreigners say “Char-les-ton”, but the old song definitely gives it two syllables. Furthermore, the opening number of the Viennese operetta Die Herzogin von Chicago, referring to the dance, also gives it two in German.

Charleston! Charleston!
Tanzt man heut.
Charleston! Charleston!
Alles schreit.
Bobby, Jimmy,
Ihr seid die Herr’n! Vielleicht schon
Morgen ist was
and’res modern! Doch heut noch
Charleston! Charleston!
Tanzt die Welt!
Charleston, Charleston,
heut gefällt.
Charleston! Charleston!
du bist der Clou es schlägt das
Herz den Takt dazu!

Not so. I spoke the word with a single syllable all my life, from long before I lived here. And, though it’s hard to find the word in a metrically unambiguous position, I finally located this from The Zoo by “Bolton Rowe” (B. C. Stephenson), music by Sir Arthur Sullivan.

I’m a simple little child,
And my ways are nice and mild,
And I never harmed a soul in all my life.
And I don’t know what is wrong,
As my principles are strong
For this hemi-sphere of wickedness and strife.
I have bracelets it is true,
And I’ve diamonds, just a few,
That are locked up in a chest of drawers at home.
And a dressing case with tops
Of gold and diamond drops,
But I haven’t an idea from whence they come.

“Fire” is a much more common word than “drawer”, and as a semi-pro opera singer, I know for certain that it is regularly set to music as a single syllable, and “fiery” as two.

Chronos quote. “Or unless you’re anywhere in the world other than New Jersey”

I hope Chronos is being purposefully inflammetory just to get a response. The only people I know who pronoubce it “draw-er” are from rural Appalachian areas. But don’t take offense Chronos. Some of my best friends are inbred hillbillies.

Regarding w, there are two issues.

First is that w is a very soft sound. It is not a hard stop, like a k or m or g. So it flows into words a lot more softly. When strung together with vowels, in blends in a lot more easily.

Consider “snow”. Is that pronounce any differently than “sno”? Is the w sound acting as a vowel, modifying the “oh” sound? Is the w just completing the way “oh” is already pronounced?

Someone mentioned “now”. Is that exactly the same as “nou” from noun, or does the w indicate a more drawn out “wuh” sound at the end? I don’t know that anyone pronounces it that way.

How about “drawer”? That word is typically pronounced to rhyme with “door”. What if we spelled it “droor”? But people would be more inclined to pronounce it to rhyme with manure.

What if the word were “draller”? It would be much more clear that the word is two syllables.

Second issue arises - pronunciation is prone to simplification over time. Complicated consonant or vowel/consonant combinations are blurred and over time become standard. Look at February. Or Wednesday. So while someone might originally have said “draw-er”, they now say “droer” because it is smoother. Kind of like the “southernization” of words. I know a guy named “Brian” that pronounces his name “Brine”. It’s a Texas thing.

Couple those issues with the fact that standardized spelling is in fact newer than the words themselves, and now you have to find a way to spell what people already say, when sometimes the sound combinations aren’t easy.

And then regionalisms come in to play.

All of which make these kinds of arguments theory vs. practice.

Irishman, u are being far too reasonable. How are we going to keep this thread going if u don’t insult someone enough to inspire a snotty retort? Lol

I speak General South Australian English with Cultivated and New South Welsh influences, have never left Australia, and ‘drawer’ is definitely one syllable. You see signs trying to sell ‘chests of draws’ all the time, which wouldn’t happen nearly so much if the words weren’t homophones.

On the other hand, Canberra is two, so… shrug

Edit: How would one get ‘drawer’ out of ‘draller’? I try to pronounce that, and get ‘drawler’, one who drawls.

Pronunciation is funny (peculiar, not just hahah). The effort to shoehorn pronunciation to fit an arbitrary set of symbols configured into arbitrary sets of vowels-consonants-Y is always going to have problems meshing with the real world. However, some people like their world to fit set theory.

Sort of like, there are two types of people on this world, those who put people into categories and those who don’t. There are 3 types of people in this world - those who can do math and those who can’t. Etc.

Plus, humans are lazy and will not use a longer pronunciation when a shorter one is understood. Someone once told me Ye Olde Shoppe was written that way because once upon a time it was pronounced that way, with the explicit “e” at the end.

steviemutton said:

Didn’t mean to imply that has anything to do with how the word is, just making a comparison with a different letter that makes a different sound.

Of course those “non-rhotic” people go a screw things up worse. “Chest of draws”?

md2000 said:

I doubt it. Standardized spelling being a fairly modern convention. Plus, English is full of silent “e”'s at the end of words.

Then again, if you exaggerate the “puh” sound at the end of the Shoppe, you do kinda pronounce the “e”, so maybe so. “Ye Old Shoppuh”.

A quick glance at Chaucer shows that he spells it “shop” with one syllable or “shoppe” with two syllables, as meter demands. (For those who know something about ME, I should add that, yes, “shoppe” is dative, but he uses “shop” for the dative, as well.)

Re: “fire” as 1 syllable… For those of us that don’t speak “Opera”, a good example from pop music (although a little old for the young’ins) is “Born To Be Wild”. Consider the line “Fire all your guns at once and/ explode into space”