Ye Olde Thorn

Next time you set out for Ye Olde Taffye Shoppe, take the correct pronunciation of the definite article ye with you. With a tweak or two, the Y of Ye was a late representation of the thorn, an Old English letter that faded away in Middle English and looked rather like a with the descender (the vertical stem) extending upward.

Runic in origin and pronounced th, the thorn began words now written as thine and thee. So, unbeknownst to most of us, Ye reverts to its former self and is properly pronounced The at our surfeit of shoppes, pointes, and so forthes. Anglophiles, take note! (Or will anybody but a second-year linguistics PhD candidate give a bloody whit?)

3 Responses to Ye Olde Thorn

  • Similar transorthographication (is there a real word for this?) is Yreka (town in California), which is the Upsilon of which the transliteration is Eureka. I have been in Yreka and was outside the Yreka Bakery, one of the few natural palindromes that I know of. The bakery was closed and may no longer exist but I was there.

    • Fred says:

      Interesting! Had the bakery been open you might’ve been able to sample their yclairs.

      First time I ran into the E-Y thing was last year, when I edited a thesis on the drug trade in the Russian city Ekaterinburg — now also spelled Yekaterinburg.

  • Erik Kowal says:

    Ekaterinburg (spelled Екатеринбург in Russian) is often mispronounced by native English speakers as ee-KAT-uh-rin-burg, but is properly pronounced yeh-kat-uh-REEN-boorg. Don’t forget to roll both those R’s.

    The city it is named after the former Empress Catherine (pronounced yeh-kat-yeh-REE-nuh). Once again, mind that rolled R!

    The Russian letter E is pronounced (and called in Russian) YEH.

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