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Ye Old Alphabet

Ever see a sign that says, “Ye Old Shoppe,” and think to yourself, “Why the heck did they say ‘ye’?”

Turns out, that word was actually pronounced “the.” The first letter is actually not a “y,” but a now obsolete letter called “thorn” that was pronounced “th.” Because the letter looked so much like a “y,” it was easily confused as one and eventually disappeared altogether.

From Mental Floss…

Have you ever seen a place that calls itself “ye olde whatever”? As it happens, that’s not a “y”, or, at least, it wasn’t supposed to be. Originally, it was an entirely different letter called thorn, which derived from the Old English runic alphabet, Futhark.

Thorn, which was pronounced exactly like the “th” in its name, is actually still around today in Icelandic. We replaced it with “th” over time—thorn fell out of use because Gothic-style scripting made the letters y and thorn look practically identical. And, since French printing presses didn’t have thorn anyway, it just became common to replace it with a y. Hence naming things like, “Ye Olde Magazine of Interesting Facts” (just as an example, of course).

“Thorn” is just one of a handful of letters that were at one time part of the alphabet. Another noteworthy addition includes the ampersand (“&”), which is obviously still in use today but was at one point considered a letter.

Learn more at Mental Floss…

Have any questions or comments about this post? Email me at chris@gomakethings.com or contact me on Twitter at @ChrisFerdinandi.

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