Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Here's Something I Didn't Know 10 Minutes Ago

In other news, Mr F helped me do the dishes tonight!

You know how in certain movies, cartoons, etc., old-timey stores are called ye olde etc?  Did you ever wonder why that is?

It's because of a letter that no longer exists.  That letter is thorn, and it looks like this:


thorn was originally a letter in the English alphabet and was used for the th sound. When typesetters began using European types early on, though, there was no Þ in the sets, so they began using y instead. At the same time, lazy scribes (oh, those lazy scribes!) began writing the letter more like a sort of y crossed with a p, and eventually that caught on, as did simply using t and h to spell out the sound t and h make when put together.

This meant that the word the, which would've been written Þe, for a while at least, began to be written and typeset as ye.  It was always pronounced as "the," at least until we as English speakers forgot entirely about the existence of the letter thorn.

But your keyboard can still make Þ, if you want.  Just hold down the alt key and press (on the number keypad) 0 2 2 2 .  Thorn will appear by magic, and then you might (as I did) wonder about why it is that modern computers can so easily create a letter that dropped out of common usage 615 years ago.

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