Word Origin & History
In M.E., -u- and -v- were used interchangeably, though with a preference for v- as the initial letter (vnder, vain, etc.) and -u- elsewhere (full, euer, etc.). The distinction into consonant and vowel identities was established in Eng. by 1630, under influence of continental printers, but into 19c. some
dictionaries and other catalogues continued to list -u- and -v- words as a single series. No native Anglo-Saxon words begin in v- except those (vane, vat, vixen) altered by the southwestern England habit of replacing initial f- with v- (and initial s- with z-). Confusion of -v- and -w- was also a characteristic of 16c. Cockney accents. In Ger. rocket weapons systems of WWII, it stood for Vergeltungswaffe "reprisal weapon." V-eight as a type of motor engine is recorded from 1930 (V-engine is attested from 1924), so called for the arrangement. The V for "victory" hand sign was conceived Jan. 1941 by Belgian politician and resistance leader Victor de Laveleye, to signify Fr. victoire and Flem. vrijheid ("freedom"). It was broadcast into Europe by Radio België/Radio Belgique and popularized by the BBC by June 1941, from which time it became a universal allied gesture.