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Jewish World Review May 17, 2001 / 24 Iyar, 5761

Bob Greene

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It's just a wee small thing, but it could be big -- WASHINGTON | We all try to change the world for the better in any way we can.

Here in Washington, of course, this goes on on a daily basis. Budget items are battled over; lobbyists endeavor to advance their interests over those of their competitors; members of Congress introduce bills intended to make a difference for people they represent.

Most of the time, all of this effort is futile. For all the energy expended, the world stays pretty much the same.

But I've been carrying a proposal around with me that, if it succeeds, will . . .

Well, this will take a little explaining.

The proposal comes not from anyone in Washington, but from a Chicago resident by the name of Bruce A. Davis.

Davis' idea is at the same time blithely simple, and potentially enormous in its implications.

He thinks the world will be much improved if the 23rd letter of the alphabet is changed.


Actually, not the letter itself -- but the pronunciation of it. This has nothing to do with the middle initial and nickname of the current president of the United States -- but it will certainly affect him, if the change comes to pass. More on that later.

Davis' desire to change w -- or, more precisely, to change how it is spoken -- is based not on politics, but efficiency.

Davis points out -- I don't know why this has never been discussed before -- that w is the only letter in our alphabet whose pronunciation is more than one syllable long.

Every other letter is a single syllable; w, when you pronounce it, requires three.

You say it: "double-u" (even though, as Davis emphasizes, the letter looks like a double-v, not a double-u).

In earlier times, the three-syllable configuration of w did not present much of a bother -- how many times a day did the average person say w?

But with the rapid growth of the World Wide Web, people not only say w all the time -- they say it three times in a row: www. Nine syllables: double-u double-u double-u.

This takes up time, and it wastes mouth muscles. You may say: Who cares about a little extra time in saying something?

Well, the same people whose blood pressure rises if their computers are a second or two late in booting up; the same people whose days are ruined if the elevator doesn't arrive soon enough after they push the button; the same people who fume if the voice-mail prompts are too wordy.

So Bruce Davis' plan -- in a world devoted to speed and to doing away with unnecessary encumbrances -- is to keep w in the alphabet, but call it something else. Make it quicker to say.

His choice is: wee.

W, when pronounced, would no longer require the three-syllable double-u. It would be spoken neatly: wee.

Davis had another potential pronunciation for w: way. And a third: aw. But wee is what seems best to him for the long haul.

It would take some time to get used to -- try singing it in the alphabet song -- but, like every other significant societal change, it would probably become universally accepted in a surprisingly brief period.

And speaking of period -- if you don't think that the computer era places value on saying things with the least possible effort, consider what has happened to period. It's not double-u double-u double-u period com; it's double-u double-u double-u dot com. Dot is quicker than period. That's why it has come into daily use.

Under the Davis plan, that will become: wee wee wee dot com.

True, it sounds quite a bit like the three little pigs. But nothing's perfect.

Now, to our president.

Currently, people refer to him as W -- pronounced Double-u, or, colloquially, Dubya.

Under the new alphabet, he would be called Wee.

He probably won't mind at all.

And then there is the case of sports stars and their coaches.

Instead of, after a close win, saying to sportswriters, "It was a tough one, but we'll take the W" -- pronounced "We'll take the double-u" -- they will say:

"We'll take the wee."

The possibilities are endless.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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