MY AMERICAN SCIENTIST
LOG IN! REGISTER!
SEARCH
 
RSS
Logo IMG
HOME > PAST ISSUE > March-April 2005 > Article Detail

COMPUTING SCIENCE

Why W?

Brian Hayes

Woo Woo Woo

My own misgivings about Lambert W pertain not to the function itself but to the name. Again: Why W? Over the years, English-speaking people have inflicted far too many Ws on the rest of the world, from the Wicked Witch of the West to the W boson to the World Wide Web. (Again I forgo comment on the current occupant of the White House.) We purse our lips painfully to pronounce doubleyou, doubleyou, doubleyou. With 26 letters to choose from, why do we keep fixing upon the only letter in the English alphabet with a polysyllabic name? (I acknowledge that I have made matters worse by writing this column, in which every sentence of the text includes at least one instance of the letter w.)

It's not too late to right the wrong. On a bus in Italy—a country that doesn't even have a w in its alfabeto—I overheard a fragment of a conversation: Someone was reading a URL and pronounced the first part "woo woo woo." It's a shrewd accommodation to linguistic wimperialism. We should all adopt it. Let us keep the letter but change the way we say it. Whether it's Lambert W or George W. or www, it's woo all the way.

Acknowledgments
For assistance with this article I offer warm thanks to Jonathan M. Borwein, David W. Cantrell, Robert M. Corless, David J. Jeffrey and Tim Royappa.

© Brian Hayes





» Post Comment

 

EMAIL TO A FRIEND :

Subscribe to American Scientist