What Why Where When, but Not Who, How, How Many or How Much

Dictionaries tell you that the consonantal initiations of the first four words here were spelled ‘hw’ in Old English (Anglo-Saxon). I realize that it’s said that some people pronounce the starts of these words with a voiceless ‘w’ (just a blow of air), but I’ve never heard anyone do that in this country (US). Why, when, where, and by whom or what, were these words changed in their spellings, whuh? And what for is ‘who’ and ‘how’ different, whuh? Yeah, OK, ‘how’, apparently, was never spelled with an ‘hw’.

Ray (Whewh!)

Don’t know when the letters were reversed (probably by the French scribes after the Norman Conquest, who are responsible for a lot of the oddities in the language). However, there are certain sections of the country where the initial “h” in “wh” are spoken. I seem to recall it was in the midwest, but the dialect map I remember is over 35 years old, so it’s possible it’s hcnaged.

“What we have here is failure to communicate.” – Strother Martin, anticipating the Internet.


Unsure of the actual change, but I was taught a little about the change in spellings of some words. For example, “fishes” (now accepted as a plural) evolved directly from “pisces”. The “p” sounds faded into a softer tone “f”, and the “sc” blended into “sh”.

Looking through the dictionary, it seems the /hw/ is a dipthong (tonal sound). Numerous “wh” words have the /hw/ dipthong. But, I can’t say just how the switch in spelling occurred.

“They’re coming to take me away ha-ha, ho-ho, hee-hee, to the funny farm where life is beautiful all the time… :)” - Napoleon IV

I was interested in phonetics as a child, and clearly remember observing that the people around me pronounced “wh” correctly in central Maine in the 50’s. But it’s disappeared lately – I don’t know whether that’s New Jersey or the passage of time.

“Fishes” certainly did not evolve from “pisces”. No doubt they have the same Indo-European root.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

Not sure but it got all that dust off my screen. Thanks.

Are you driving with your eyes open or are you using The Force? - A. Foley

the americans like to bastardize all english words…they get a kick out of it

Once again, Word Mavens to the rescue!

“The dawn of a new era is felt and not measured.” Walter Lord

“Fishes” and “Pisces” are indeed cognates (i.e., have a common Indo-European root – in this case *piesk-). They are a perfect example of Grimm’s Law of phonetic change.

Yes, the same Grimm of Fairy Tale fame (or one of them).

“What we have here is failure to communicate.” – Strother Martin, anticipating the Internet.