As far as I can see, every Latin word that starts with vu- has a collateral form starting with vo-. It's not many, but these at least: vulgus, vulnus, vulpes, vultur, vultus, and indeed vulva, where volva seems to be the main form; plus a few words derived from these, like vulticulus, vultuosus, etc.

Is there a particular reason why this is so? Or is this a coincidence?

  • 2
    I need to find references for this, but I believe earlier vu > u, which means all instances of initial vu in Classical come from a later change of o > u / _ l which only happened in certain dialects (and thus you also see unaffected forms that didn't go through this change).
    – Draconis
    Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 17:19
  • (I'm posting this as a comment so others can chime in and say if this is nonsense while I'm searching for references.)
    – Draconis
    Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 17:20

1 Answer 1


They all started out with /wo/. Then /o/ turned into /u/ in some contexts:

  • in syllables other than the first. This mainly shows up in the last syllable of inflected words (e.g. -os, -om, -ont became -us, -um, -unt).
  • in the first syllable, if followed by /l/ + another consonant

This sound change had probably already happened in pronunciation in Plautus (we see confusion between the declension of u-stem and o-stem words), but in spelling “VO” wasn’t replaced by “VU” until the middle of the first century AD. (In other contexts, “VO” didn’t undergo this change, but it sometimes changed instead to “VE”).

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    Eg Vort- to vert-. Do you have any indication why what changed to what? I'm seeing of course vol- change to vul-, was vor- to ver- standard? Was there some linguistic process at play?
    – cmw
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 6:34
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    @cmw The vo- > ve- dissimilation seems to be conditioned by a following dental (other than /l/).
    – TKR
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 18:22
  • 1
    vort vs vert is IE ablaut. @cmw
    – fdb
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 13:22

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