6 min readDec 22, 2023

We write two, but… what ever happened to that W?

Photo by Muaz AJ on Unsplash

Why write t-w-o but then end up pronouncing it as t-o?

Have a look at these words:

  • twice
  • twin
  • twelve
  • twenty

With all of them we are clearly pronouncing that ‘W’.

So, what’s up with t-w-o? Why don’t we pronounce it with that ‘W’?

Why say to, and not twoo? And then putting the ‘W’ in there ? ? ?

It took some deep investigation to uncover the madness, but then the answer was Vikingly easy.

When the Angles and Saxons invaded England, they brought with them their own (slightly distinct) languages.

Where the Saxons have a ‘W’ in their two, think German ‘zwei’ and Dutch ‘twee’, the Angles (from Denmark) had a different idea altogether.

  • Tip: Google Translate enables you to listen to all these and following words, so you (and your ears) can check them out for yourself.

In Danish, the word for two is ‘to’. The Danish word for twelve is ‘tolv’.

The Danish word for 20 also does not have a ‘W’ in it: ‘tyve’.

Yet, that is not the whole story; there is (so much) more. Let’s scout first, and conclude later.

In Swedish, the word for two is ‘två’, clearly showing us that ‘W’ but then more like a wannabe ‘W’. Note how the vowel ‘å’ is more like the circle above the ‘A’ than how we pronounce our own vowel ‘A’; it’s more like an ‘O’.

And yet… their word for twelve is also clearly ‘tolv’. That wannabe ‘W’ not even in sight.

The Swedish word for 20 does something special, it is ‘tjugo’. Not a ‘W’ and not a ‘V’, but clearly something else is happening indeed after the ‘T’.

In Norwegian, the word for two is ‘to’ and the word for twelve is ‘tolv’. We see the same words here as found in Danish.

The Norwegian word for 20 is ‘tjue’, however. So only in the twenty word do we see something special going on. Perhaps not a surprise of finding the ‘J’ in both Swedish and Norwegian. Still, both ‘J’ versions are pronounced slightly differently.

They both do something folks don’t do in Denmark. Keep this in mind.

In Icelandic, the word for two is ‘tveir’, written with that ‘W’ wannabe, but surprisingly pronounced very similar to the Dutch ‘twee’. Their word for twelve is again ‘tólf’, though it clearly has a lust for putting that ‘W’ in there. Do try listening to it on Google Translate to hear for yourself.

The Icelandic word for 20 is ‘tuttugo’. Now, with just a touch of imagination, one can connect this word so much better to Dutch and German than to the Scandinavian versions of twenty.

There is another North-Germanic language, Frisian.

In Frisian, the word for two is ‘twa’ and we see that ‘W’ real nicely. Then, we see again that twelve is ‘tolve’.

The Frisian word for 20 is ‘tweintich’. While also not identical, this is close to ‘zwanzig’ in German and ‘twintig’ in Dutch, already near-identified in Icelandic as well.

There is some variety for certain, so let’s draw some quick conclusions:

The Germanic groups brought their own versions of the word two to the British islands from two directions, and let’s just say they ended up compromising.

In the spoken language, we say the same what the Danes (the Angles) were already saying:

  • TO

Yet in writing, we write what the Saxons would feel more comfortable with:

  • TWO

— — — — —

Lastly, an important word about the linguistic meaning of the word two.

The God Tyr (or Tywas) points us to an essential aspect of two:

  • It is not one!

Before diving into the specifics, let’s follow the information of the wiki link of Tyr, declaring that the idea behind the word two is sometimes explained as being the word God itself.

Note how this explanation is not the modern version of God, but rather the original version of the word. The Gods of the original religions were far more part of the lives of all people than the modern, relatively abstract and distant God that we fight about so much today.

Associating the original word God with two is quite visible in the Romance languages as seen with the words Dio, Dieu, and Dios. We may not see number two immediately in specifics, but duo, double, and even doubt, are very easy to spot as some desired and perhaps undesired forms of two.

Obviously, there is no ‘W’ in Dio, Dieu, and Dios. Yet that sound right after the ‘D’, while not fully identical to the special ‘J’ in Swedish and Norwegian, does show how there is a common ancestor of the Indo-European language group.

  • There is something special going on with that second sound position within the word that is sometimes pronounced and sometimes not.

In French, for example, we have Dieu (God) and Deux (two, with the ‘X’ in deux not audible, yet showing its plural ending). The single difference of that ‘I’ pronounced in second spot (or not) in these French words tells us quite the story.

  • It is mighty important.

In Spanish, too, we still have both versions (Dios and dos), and so we see that within a single language this audible modification is functional. Contrast this with the need to jump from one Germanic language to another to fully see the distinction of something special in sound occurring, either captured in that second spot, or lacking it.

In Italian, we do see the ‘W’ reappearing in due without it being written down. The difference in pronunciation between Dio and due is not just the vowel change of the strong ‘I’ removed, but also that potential ‘W’ sound.

The distinction may become more obvious when declaring the word two the same as the word war. Obviously, the human mind should have an easy time accepting that the word two is showing us real opposition, and indeed in its extreme it is showing us a tearing apart of one.

  • At minimum, a real distinction is expressed with number two of having various parts as results. For sure, the outcome is not one, or better perhaps it declares how all that was one is now no longer one.

Let’s not forget that we are not at war with God, of course. That is simply not possible. And, yet, we all know that we are not in the same position as God either.

So, when we declare the word two with the meaning God, then we do see the fundamental separation between ourselves and the higher reality in which we may nevertheless have our own roles to play here on Earth.

Here on Earth, however, we do split ourselves to the extreme, whereas the Gods above may not go to such a deep and heinous level.

  • That would mean we can make the outcomes far worse than divinity intended. We are the ones going to war even and sometimes particularly because we are not listening to the Gods any longer.

Though separated from divinity, humans can take that separation beyond intent. We are the ones that make the separation more than real. We are (too often) at war with one another, whereas the Gods are just in disagreement.

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I hope you agree this is totally twoo.