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The   on my keyboard has gone sticky. Oops, let me type that again. The w on my keyboard has gone sticky. When I type a word containing the letter w, sometimes the w appears, sometimes not. I have to go back and carefully check for a missing w. That got me thinking. What if the w-word is still a valid word without the w? Words that begin with w like waft, wedge, and wholly? Or words that end in w such as mew, now, and sow? And how about words containing an embedded w? Will I catch all the typos if the incorrect word remains a valid word?

Let’s take a closer look at words that begin with w. If the missing w causes the resulting word to be non-valid—watercolour/atercolour, weevil/eevil, wisdom/isdom—then such nonsensical creations are easily spotted. But what if the resulting word is valid—wage/age, whinge/hinge, wretch/retch? It might be possible to create a sentence using such words where the w-less version still makes sense. Here are some examples:

Where is the witch?/Here is the itch?
There’s a wasp on your wheel/There’s an asp on your heel.
I am warmed by the welder’s torch/I am armed by the elder’s torch.

With a bit of a stretch:

‘My wrap is a fancy woven cloth,’ said the woman/’My rap is a fancy oven cloth,’ said the oman.
He’s a whippy wimp wallah from Walton/He’s a hippy imp allah from Alton.

Some of my sentences came out a bit strange:

Can you wangle a warm waffle for me?/Can you angle a arm affle for me?
(Affle is a word. It can mean an expression of sympathy (‘That sucks.’) or tall and big.)

Some sentences just came out crazy when the w was omitted:

The goose waddles on webbed feet as it wends its way back to the wall from whence it came./The goose addles on ebbed feet as it ends its ay back to the all from hence it came.

And for absolute nonsense, here’s the best I could come up with:

Last winter, we were witness to wet and windy weather with waist-high floods, waltzing whirlpools, wild water on windshields, and warnings of washouts. We wept as we watched and waited.

I’ll let you sort out how this would read if all the ws were missing.

At issue here is whether the w-word retains its grammatical type when the w is omitted. For example, waft can be a noun or a verb but aft is either an adjective or an adverb. Thus, any sentence using waft will become nonsensical when the waft turns into aft. Other examples of such incompatible types are: wan (adj)/an (determiner); wheal (n)/heal (v); whim (n)/him (pn); win (n, v)/in (preposition, n, adj, adv); and what (adv, pn, conjunction, determiner, interjection)/hat (n).

Examples of w-words that exactly retain their grammatical type are: wage (n, v)/age (n, v); wasp (n)/asp (n); wheel (n, v)/heel (n, v) and examples that partially retain their grammatical type are wallow (n, v)/allow (v); want (n, v)/ant (n); wretch (n)/retch (n, v). Context becomes important in these cases.

All these missing-w sentences beg the hypothetical question: could the reverse happen? Could I write a sentence using valid words that do not start with a w and then, magically, the front-end ws appear. Here’s an example.

Here is my ear, my arm, my hip, and the ‘hoofs’ on my heels. I allow you to see them all.

Adding the ws to certain words produces:

Here is my wear, my warm, my whip, and the ‘whoofs’ on my wheels. I wallow you to see them wall.

Okay, even Microsoft Word’s autochange would not produce this semantic and syntactic mess!

Let’s move on to words that end in a w and which produce a valid word if the w is omitted. It turns out there are not many of these such words and what does exist are mostly limited to three letters: low, mew, now, maw, paw, sow, tow, yew plus prow and pilcrow. (Pilcro® is a women’s fashion brand.)

It’s difficult to compose a meaningful w-less sentence with such limited choice but how about The creature’s maw was ferocious/The creature’s ma as ferocious?

Finally, what about words that contain an embedded w? There are many such words but omitting the w rarely leads to an alternative valid pair of spaced-apart words that (a) are both valid and (b) make sense when used in a sentence e.g., backwash/back ash; sportswear/sports ear; barbwire/barb ire. The closest I could get to a sentence that almost works is:

Here you be; are there crocodiles?/Here you beware the crocodiles.

The example doesn’t quite work: changes in punctuation are required, there needs to morph into the, and Here you be is a colloquial form of Here you are.

I guess the real solution is to mend the w key on my keyboard rather than worry about the effect of a missing w. I’m on it.

Oh, in case you are still trying to figure out the title to this article, it should have been Where has my double-u gone? Or, better still, Where has my W gone? but that might have read Where has my gone?


I am indebted to the wonderful Word Hippo website. I spent hours poring over this website, playing with words, putting my examples together. If you are anything of a logophile, Word Hippo should be in your Favourites.