I was listening to an old radio program, Quiet Please, from the 1940s, and kids in a classroom were singing an alphabet song, “A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes W and Y.”
I thought to myself, “Whenever is a W a vowel?”
Trust the internet to hold the answer.
As Modern English evolved, the Old English letters were dropped or replaced.
Here’s an example: In Old English, a letter called “thorn” represented the “th” sound (as in “that”) in Modern English. In the Latin alphabet, the “y” was the symbol that most closely resembled the character that represented thorn. So, thorn was dropped and “y” took its place.
That is why the word “ye,” as in “Ye Olde Booke Shoppe,” is an archaic spelling of “the.”
The Old English letter “wynn” was replaced by “uu,” which eventually developed into the modern w. (It really is a double u.)
So the above holds a second revelation: When we try to sound corny and pronounce “Ye Olde Bookshop” phonetically, we’re still all wet because we’re pronouncing it wrong! Doh!
– – Oh, and if you’re still scratching your head about the W being a vowel, just try pronouncing “water” out loud. The first sound is definitely not a hard sound, but sounds more like “ooo-ah-ter.”