Where does the word what come from?

Why do we say wot when it's spelt the way it is?


Google said:

A Google tree showing etymology. It is explained in the following text.

The explanation stated:

Old English hwæt, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch wat and German was, from an Indo-European root shared by Latin quid.

So I guess it originated from Germanic, used by Latin quid.

You can also find the brief history here, as how @oerkelens wrote in the comment.

As for the pronunciation, I don't fully agree with what you said about "we" say it (h)wot. Not every speaker does so (well maybe speakers in UK do). Although yeah, some people do (maybe you too). But the pronunciation varies quite a lot. Some people also say it (h)wət. Some say it (h)wät. So I don't think the pronunciation variation has any relation to the word's origin. It's only a matter of accents, all over the world.


I would say "what" is connected with Latin quod, actually the relative pronoun neutre. Etymonline gives the Latin quid, the interrogative pronoun neutre. The q-sound was kept in French quoi, and abandoned in German and English where the Latin u appeared as a w-sound. The h in English what is a remembrance that there was qu in Latin.

  • 1
    Germanic /hw/,/xw/ are cognate with Latin <qu-> = /kw/, not descendants of it. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 24 '14 at 10:36
  • I said connected, I did not say comes from. – rogermue Apr 24 '14 at 10:49
  • 1
    You say that "the q-sound" was "abandoned in German and English" and that the "h in English what is a rememberance that there was qu in Latin". In fact, the /k/ which survived in Latin and its descendants became /h/ or /x/ in Proto-Germanic and survives in many English dialects (including mine) as /h/. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 24 '14 at 10:58
  • @StoneyB One can look at words in etymology in two ways. You can simply compare the Latin word and its equivalents in modern languages. That is much simpler than to do it the other way, to try to describe the evolutionary process of the words. – rogermue Apr 24 '14 at 12:01

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