Origins of words and phrases

There is a very specific reason for turning back to ye olde days in order to look at today’s word.


Ye Olde Days







We often see the word “ye” in old writings, and it’s been preserved in deliberately archaic signs like Ye Olde Tea Shoppe and so on. But I’ve always found it interesting that although in earlier centuries – my guess is up until around the early 19th century – “ye” was commonly used for “the” in print, people never actually said “Ye book/ye shoppe” etc.

It’s all to do with an old English letter that was slow to die out and which presented printers with a bit of a headache. This was what is known as the “thorn” symbol, which represented the ‘th’ sound.






In handwriting of the day, the thorn was so similar to the letter Y that the early printers, whose presses were often made in Europe where the thorn was not used, used it as a substitute. (I’m guessing that in print the thorn might also have been confused with the letter p.)

Later the construction “Th” solved the thorn/Y conundrum – which I for one think is a shame because I quite like the old runic letter!


About ramblesofawriter

Writer, thinker, tea drinker.
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