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ye (the thorn)


Those who study the history of English know that the word often misread as "ye" in Middle English is good old "the" spelled with an unfamiliar character (actually a germanic rune) called a thorn. So even though it looks like "ye", it was pronounced "the." (At least for store signs; does not apply to "Ye of little faith.*")

The thorn looks like this: Þ or þ or .
In Old English and early Middle English, the sound (th) was represented by the letter thorn.

When printing presses were first set up in England in the 1470s, the type and the typesetters all came from Continental Europe, where the thorn letter was not in use. The letter y was used instead because in the handwriting of the day the thorn was very similar to y (if you're wondering why they didn't use p, it's probably because p was used for another Germanic rune; wyn**).

So all those quaint shop names beginning "Ye Olde" are based on a confusion: people never said "ye" to mean "the." However, if you'd rather be cute than historically accurate, go ahead. Very few people will know any better.


*The other ``ye,'' the plural of "thou," has a separate, less exotic etymology. The word ``you'' is not a misreading of ``thou.''

** Wyn =


The to Thorn