As one of our contributions to the exhibition 1969 at P.S.1, Matthew Day Jackson and I pay tribute to Sesame Street. In the show’s first episode, broadcast on November 10, 1969, Kermit the Frog tries to deliver a lecture on the letter W. He’s foiled first by Cookie Monster, who devours Kermit’s prop, then by the W itself, which comes to life and attacks him. Kermit is in 1969, gone grey to reflect other presences in the show. W lurks nearby as well.
W is a shifty sort of letter. To pronounce it we say “double-u,” but the pronunciation conspicuously lacks the /w/ sound it alleges to represent. To write it we mash two V’s together; it possesses no independent shape of its own.
W’s history is similarly suspect. The Latin alphabet, which evolved from a variant of the Greek alphabet circa the seventh century BC, did not originally feature the letter. In the Middle Ages scribes began knitting two V’s together in a ligature in order to represent sounds in Germanic languages not found in medieval Latin.