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Volume 20, 1887
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The Letter “V.”

Vau, a nail.

This is the name given to the Hebrew letter V, whence sprung our F and V and Y (W). In the sense of “nail” it does

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not seem to have been of wide distribution, and perhaps the uncertainty of its sound, vibrating from F and V into P and B made it difficult for the first scribes of language to fix its fluctuations. Under the name of “digamma” it was used in one Greek dialect, and has proved useful in philology in showing how transitions of words have taken place, as, to use the old school-boy example, Foĩvoç (i.e., ονοç) into Latin vinum, wine. It was a fancied resemblance to one gamma superimposed on another, F, which led the grammarians to relinquish the old name of Fa? for this letter. As the name of a nail, it does not seem to have been adopted by the Aryan nations (so far as I can ascertain). Taylor gives the meaning of vau as “a peg or nail,” but says, “rather, hook, as a hook fastened into the wall for holding clothes.” Farrar* gives vau, “a tent-peg or hook.” The tent-peg would seem the more probable origin among a pastoral and probably a tent-dwelling people, as once the children of Abraham were.

The Polynesians seem to possess a word of nearly the same sound and signification. Maori whao, “a nail, any iron tool, a chisel;” whaowhao, “to carve wood;” kowhao, “a hole;” urukowhao, “leakage in a canoe through the holes made for the lashings of the rauawa” (attached sides). Samoan fao, “a wooden peg or nail; any kind of gouge used in making the sinnet-holes in canoes; to punch holes in the side of a canoe;” faofao, “a long shell, formerly used as a gouge in making the sinnet-holes for lashing together two planks of a canoe.” Tahitian fao, “a nail or chisel;” “to make holes with a fa.o;” faoa, “a stone adze;” haoa, “a hard stone, of which adzes were formerly made;” “an adze” made of this stone. Hawaiian hao, the name of any hard substance, as iron, the horn of a beast, etc.: strained tightly, hard; haoapuhi, (puhi, “an eel,”) the name of a stick used instead of a hook for catching eels; ohao, (for kohao,) “to tie,” as a rope or string.

The last word brings us to the consideration of the New Zealand Maori words: whao, “a nail,” and whau, “to tie;” i.e., fastening with a peg, and fastening with a cord. Whau, with Samoan fau, “to tie together,” and Tahitian fafau (redup.), “to tie together,” have sister words throughout Polynesia. I believe that the notion held by one or two Maori linguists, that the word fau, used as a verb, “to tie,” arose from the noun naming the tree fau, (whau, or whauwhi,) is incorrect, as the word fau is applied to different species of trees the bark of which is useful for cordage, or clothing. The Hibiscus tiliaceus, the Broussonetia papyrifera, a species of Urtica, etc., have this word fau applied to them in different islands, a fact which points out that fau was used as a word meaning “to tie,” or “fasten together,” before the dispersion of the Maori race in the Pacific.

[Footnote] * “Language and Languages,” p. 117.