Tangiora - Have you ever wondered why WORD is spelt with an O and not an I as in BIRD? This mystery will be revealed next by the Spelling Queen from Carnarvon. Good morning Paquita, our Spelling Queen. You are going to tell us about the word word. Why can’t we write WIRD? Spell it like BIRD.
Paquita - It’s all about the letter I. Have you ever wondered why that little word I has a capital letter, even in the middle of a sentence, and yet ME does not?
Tangiora – I expect I should have asked about that long ago. But when I was small teachers did not explain spelling to us.
Paquita - It’s the same now but never mind. The reason we use a capital for the little word I is that long ago lower case I did not have a dot on top. Consequently, in cursive, it was hard to pick out from the other letters and on its own did not stand out at all. So when it was on its own it was extended up into a capital I. It is as simple as that. The French extended it down, and that is how J was invented, the last letter to be added to our alphabet. French I starts with a J, je.
Tangiora – So it is only a capital when it is on its own. What happened to little dotless I inside words?
Paquita - It became another cursive casualty. After W, without a dot on top, it looked like part of W, a W with an extra down leg, so it had to be replaced with O, in order to stand out. So WIRD became WORD. The word WIR meant man and wirs speak words, and just as French speak French, and English speak English, and Yingarrda speak Yingarrda.
Tangiora – Now I know why werewolf means man-wolf.
Paquita - Exactly. That old word wir is still around, in the compound word werewolf. The word man, which meant 'human', came to mean a male human and replaced the old word wir.
Tangiora - Now how about WORM? Was worm once spelt WIRM?
Paquita - That word is also a cursive casualty. As you know IR spells [er] and so does [ur]. Worm was spelt WURM until cursive writing made the U hard to read after W – all joined up it looked like triple U. So U was replaced with O and those few people who could read and write knew it was really U.
Tangiora – What is our word for the day Paquita?
Paquita. I have chosen VIRILE. V used to spell [w] as well as [v] – wine/vine. Well we don’t call men wir any more but we still speak of men as virile. Virile is an adjective about strength, and a virulent germ is hard to conquer. I expect we will hear the adjective virile a lot during the Olympic games.