Ye olde blogge post: þornography and orthography

I have a question for ye: why are olde shoppes so often prefaced with the word ye? Be they belonging to ye?

It doesn’t have anything to do with the word ye. Instead, it has to do with the mystery of the missing thorn. Thorn is actually the name of an old (sorry, olde) letter that signified the “th” sound. Thorn was a common letter in old English. Beowulf is lousy with thorns. You can’t understand a word of it, but every now and then a sentence jumps out at you.

þæt wæs god cyning! (That was a good king!)

Just as unicorns went extinct because they didn’t get on the ark in time, so too the thorns (sorry, þorns) went extinct because they didn’t get on the printing press. “It’s a fad!” they said “You’ll see. Kids today and their crazy movable type…” Now with Unicode, the thorn’s time has come round again. Watch this: þþþþþþ. Sadly, though, Unicode can do nothing for the unicorn.

At any rate, when trying to typeset English with only 26 thornless letters, some clever soul thought to replace þ with y. So “ye” is nothing more than the definite article “the.” So þere.

I came across this dandy little video on the topic while perusing a YouTube channel called MinutePhysics. I’m not sure why English spelling ended up on a physics channel, but I enjoyed it all the same.

If you’d like to watch something more in line with the physics-oriented nature of the channel, here’s a good one. Learn, in less than one minute, how Einstein went about proving that E = mc2 (note: it does not involve a ka-boom). Very cool!

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