I was listening to the radio the other day and heard the interviewee talking about his website as "double u, double u whatever dot com", which is a linguistic trait I have noticed happening more in recent years. It set me thinking about how we pronounce the WWW in web addresses, so I spent a day off sick compiling some research into the variants. Of the dozens of pronunciations I looked at, very few have been widely adopted.
Like most research I do these days, I started with the Wikipedia article on the pronunciation of WWW which begins with this wonderful quote attributed to Douglas Adams writing in the Independent on Sunday in 1999:
The World Wide Web is the only thing I know of whose shortened form takes three times longer to say than what it's short for.
The core problem which Adams identifies here is one which has vexed the web for many years and continues to do so.
WWW in other countries
Most of the abbreviated forms that I have encountered are abbreviated precisely because the full length pronunciation is so inconvenient in English.
In other countries folks are more lucky, for example in Germany you might say "ve, ve, ve" or just "drei ve" (for 3Ws). Similarly in French, "trois doubles-vÃ©s" or "triple double-vÃ©". In Wales you can say, "w-driphlyg", the w being pronounced "oo" and in Iceland "vaff, vaff, vaff" will work.
Along with comprehensive coverage of other languages, Wikipedia notes that Spanish has a large number of possible pronunciations:
In Spanish, "3w" can be either "triple doble v", "triple doble u", "uve doble uve doble uve doble", "tres uve dobles", "triple uve doble", "doble u, doble u, doble u", "ve doble, ve doble, ve doble" (Latin America), "doble ve, doble ve, doble ve" (Argentina) or "tres uve(s) dobles" (Spain).
While we are talking about WWW in other languages, I'd like briefly to mention WWW, Hebrew and the Antichrist. A popular conspiracy theory peddled about WWW goes like this. The Hebrew letter wav is equivalent to our W and also to the number 6. So WWW in Hebrew ought to be wav wav wav or 6-6-6. Thus meaning that the Web is a tool of the antichrist. The conspiracy is roundly debunked in Is the Web the Antichrist?, in case you’re cowering away from your keyboard in terror now
Though other languages have elegant ways to solve the WWW pronunciation problem, in English, we have the ugly and inconvenient "double u, double u, double u" form. Though the American English dropping of the "l" from "double u" — "dubya" — helps a little, finding a shorter way to say WWW is a recurring topic of discussion on the web.
In the very early days, W3 ("double u three", "double u to the three" or "double u cubed") was not uncommon — hence the World Wide Web Consortium calling themselves W3C. References to exponentiation are perhaps a little elitist for today’s less techie web, however.
Back in 1997, Simon Banton was echoing Douglas Adams’s 1999 quote, saying
Let's face it, to say 'www' you need to use 6 more syllables than the phrase that 'www' represents - World Wide Web.
His suggestion was to use web dot instead of www dot. Dave Yost added his voice to this suggestion on his "web dot" page, also back in the late 90s. By 1999, Yost thought that a better idea would be to dispense with the www. altogether.
Without getting into the controversy about whether Yost was right (cf: http://no-www.org/, http://www.yes-www.org/ if you must), Jeff Atwood noted in The Great Dub-Dub-Dub Debate years later, in 2008, that
The www prefix is implicit and assumed outside the address bar. Even if you use it â€“ and many of the biggest sites on the internet still do â€“ nobody says the dub-dub-dub any more, and certainly you're not printing "www" on your logos and business cards and so forth.
This opinion was echoed by Remy Sharp, writing in 2006, in a piece entitled dub-dub-dub, or: How we pronounce the World Wide Web. He said:
Times are a changin'. In fact, times have changed. If you hear 'visit bbc dot co dot uk, slash radio one - you know that means http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1. This begs [sic] the question: why did you add the 'www'? What does it mean? It means it's a web page on the Internet. Well, you knew that already didn't you? You don't send emails to [email protected] because it's an email - your email program does the math for you. For those non-techs - your email is sending through a protocol called SMTP - which knows the email needs to go to an email server. So, why did you add the 'www'? You don't need to.
Back to 1999, though. In his dotweb page Yost also collected some nice pronunciations, including:
- wubble, wubble, wubble
- Tri-Dub (inspired by "Vee-Dub")
- v6 (three "Ws" are six "Vs")
Simon Banton, meanwhile, had also spotted "hex-u" and mocked it along with "triple-dub", "wub wub wub" and "wuh wuh wuh".
Other WWW pronunciations were also frowned on by some. Indeed a number ended up on the truly horrible acronyms page of the Portland Pattern Repository, which lists a few pronunciations including CodyBoisclair’s suggestions
I’ve heard "dub-dub-dub" on a few occasions. And one Internet radio station I listened to a while back pronounced it "double-U's", assuming the listener would know that there should be three of them. Then there's the rather facetious suggestion, "sextuple-U"... -- CodyBoisclair
"dub-dub-dub" is an interesting one. Apparently it is pretty standard to pronounce WWW this way in New Zealand and Australia, though it is not universally liked. For example, the "dub-dub-dub" can be seen in this history of libraries in NZ or this guide to speaking like a New Zealander.
The "dub-dub-dub" form is, along with wibble one of the two listed in the Jargon File, which is undoubtedly one of the most useful web resources on hacker trivia like the WWW pronunciation question. Helpfully, the Jargon File notes that "dub-dub-dub" has
Nothing to do with the style of reggae music called â€˜dubâ€™. I’m glad that’s cleared up.
Back in 2000, there was a pretty comprehensive discussion on Half Baked. "Wibble" was again suggested along with many others such as:
- sixtupel-u, sextupel-u
- dubdubdub and dubadubdub
- wot (for Www dOT)
- 3 Chucks (looks like Charley Brown’s shirt)
Around this time, I was working at the now defunct web recruitment startup hotrecruit. I am fairly certain I remember discussing with colleagues the idea of saying "webble-u" — as in www for the web — though there doesn’t seem to be anyone on the web who wrote this down (or DDG can’t find it).
By 2008, New Scientist, in a blog, was asking its readers to Help us find a better way to pronounce www, some nice suggestions were provided in the comments including the Welsh "oo-oo-oo" and "wee-wee-wee" and the baffling "all the Ws". The New Zealand "dub dub dub" is present as is "dub 3", which echoes w3. Also webdot seems to have some traction in the discussion. Importantly, too, are mentions of not needing to say the "www" at all like this from Rob Tilaart:
just don’t say it as people will automatically add it when entering an address. Furthermore DNS resolves most webaddresses without www to the right one. Same is true for the postfix .com just don’t say it. People will add it. When I say check yahoo or google you know what to type. I even don’t add it for local (.nl) extentions[sic].
Dropping the WWW entirely seems a little radical, but perhaps that is the linguistic effect I was witnessing when I heard the person on the radio refer to their site as "double u, double u whatever dot com". In fact, with the US pronunciation dubya, the same phenomenon seems to be happening on the other side of the pond. In a Reddit discussion about how to pronounce hexadecimal, saltr says:
I’m used to people just saying two of the three Ws. "dubya dubya dot P B S dot org!"
I am sure I have even heard people eliding their Ws to the extent of using only a single one, as in "double u something dot com". I can find no references for that particular usage online as yet, however.
A Rotten Tomatoes forum which, like the New Scientist piece, dates from 2008 bought up some pronunciations which we have not encountered so far.
- Trey dubz
- bubble bubble bubble
Other old classics like "wah-wah-wah" and "vey vey vey" (presumably from the German, Hungarian or Scandanavian) are also there. Meanwhile, in a thread on UK clique, Daniel James says that he has tried to popularize "Tribble" (a nod to the classic Star Trek episode, The Trouble with Tribbles) as a pronunciation.
WWWrapping it up
What has this dive through the ways we pronounce WWW in English taught me?
Well, firstly it is clear that there a lot of ingenious ways to save the effort of saying a few syllables. From W3 to trip-dubs, people have found some often amusing, sometimes cutesy, and occasionally downright irritating ways to pronounce a 3 letter acronym. Secondly, that a lot of the most creative ideas have been around for longer than I might have imagined. Thirdly that the easiest pronunciation is sometimes not to pronounce things at all. And finally that this is a discussion that seems set to run and run.
Did I miss your favourite WWW pronunciation? Tell me in the comments!
WWW wordle generated by wordcloud2.js.