But it wasn’t always that way.
Before we get to which letters were late additions, let’s explain a bit about Old English. English was first written in the Anglo-Saxon futhorc runic alphabet, also known as Anglo-Saxon. The Angles and Saxons came from Germany and settled in Britain in the fifth century. The region they inhabited became known as “Angle-land,” or “England.”
Eventually, Christian missionaries introduced the Latin alphabet, which ultimately replaced Anglo-Saxon. But for some time, the alphabet included the letters of the Latin alphabet, some symbols (like the ampersand), and some letters of Old English.
As Modern English evolved, the Old English letters were dropped or replaced.
(Our trusty alphabet isn’t the only part of language that has changed — October used to be the eighth month, and September the seventh. What happened? Find out here.)
Here’s an example: In Old English, a letter called “thorn” represented the “th” sound (as in “that”) in Modern English. In the Latin alphabet, the “y” was the symbol that most closely resembled the character that represented thorn. So, thorn was dropped and “y” took its place. (But is “y” a vowel or a consonant? We explore the dilemma here.)
That is why the word “ye,” as in “Ye Olde Booke Shoppe,” is an archaic spelling of “the.”
I had read somewhere that “thorn” was represented by the number 3, which contradicts what you say here.
I just cross-checked it. 3 represented “g” and not “th”.
So ‘Ye Olde Booke Shoppe’ was pronounced ‘The Old Book Shop’?
…but they still pronounce it ye old bookshop or ye old fair…
To erdos: Although it looks similar to a three, that’s actually the letter yogh (Ȝ) and is quite different. It also could represent the sounds represented by the modern consonantal “y” and the glutteral sound represented by “ch” in German “ach.”
To GS: Yep.
Fascinating. I could read about stuff like that all day.
here is thorn: þ
and here is wynn: Ƿ
You can see why they made their way out of the alphabet.
There was another letter in the English alphabet which went out of use, eth (ð). Eth also represented the Modern th sound.
Thorn was used for the unvoiced th sound (the sound in “thing” or “thorn”) and eth was used for the voiced th sound (the sound in “this” or “that”).
To Dracodis and Erdos. Thorn was represented by the letter Y, not by yogh, g or 3.
The 3-like symbol used for g was used when the g made a y sound, which it did fairly often in Old English (the word “geardagum”* was pronounced yee-are-day-oom). Modern computer typefaces have wrought havoc with yogh/ezh/long z/three.
According to Wikipedia, “In medieval Cornish manuscripts, yogh is used to represent the voiced interdental fricative”. In plain English, medieval Cornish manuscripts use Ȝ for ð. That’s probably where the confusion stems from.
*literally “year-days”, it meant something like “days of old”, “ancient times” or “once upon a time”
thorn (thôrn) The runic letter þ originally representing either sound of the Modern English th, as in the and thin, used in Old English and Middle English manuscripts.
([Old English; related to Old High German dorn, Old Norse thorn])
wynn (wn) or wen (wn) An Old English rune having the sound (w) and used in Old English and early Middle English writing.
Read up conjunctions
thats cool. i just wonder how you found all that out
Awww. I knew a gothic chick in high school who always used to write me secret notes coded in ruins. How nostalgic
Reading that made me remember why I hated English class in school! Ahhhhhhh, who cares if U & J came along in the alphabet later on, how is that going to put food on your family’s table, pay bills & put clothes on you & your families backs….?
@rissa: Conduct some research; you should find some interesting information like the information. You’ll find facts and information you didn’t know!
Sounds like there is quite a dispute going up there at the top of the comment list. Well, erdos, it’s not a “3″ as others have noted! @GS, yes. @Rune and @alorah, thanks for the information. Just a few questions: ms.karma, don’t put useless or nonsensical comments up there. Just get to the point. And Alan Turner, your comment doesn’t make sense and doesn’t relate to the topic – Old English letters now not in the alphabet anymore.
Oh yes, and Hot Word, thanks for the information; for once you have taken up a better topic. Old English symbols not in use are definitely something to blog about. Yet try not to confuse people…did you see the comments “criticising”‘ the blog post for confusion?
Very excited. I always wanted to know the difference between “ye” and “the”. Never made sense to me. But now it does
U have put up banners of some game called amazonia. This is an example of intrusive advertising. The banner automatically opens up the game site. Each time i open a word in a new tab, this annoying this starts it play.
I have dictionary.com as my home page. Do you wish that people get annoyed with you ridiculous advertising techniques and change the home page.
BTw- I have repeatedly requested the website, to start a separate forum for the ardent logophiles who wish to air their view on stuff, ur word of the day is linked with facebook and twitter, why cant u have a forum to comment on under the word itself. People generally do not like going to ridiculous site that you strategically direct them to
Interestingly enough (well to me anyway) the use of Thorn and Wynn were an artefact left over from elder futhark used by the Old Norse and Old Teutonic tribes. Elder futhark being the runic alphabet in use from around 150AD – 800AD and was still being written in various guises (albeit in Northern Europe only) until 1100AD, by which time the more contemporary alphabets had incorporated/been replaced by the Latin alphabet.
Thorn originated from the Thuriaz rune (proto-germanic term), which as well as ‘th’ sound when used with other letters, also represented the God of lightening and thunder Thor and the number 3 (þrir in Old Norse)when used in isolation.
Wynn orginated from the Wunjo rune (proto-germanic term), which evolved into the ‘w’ from the ‘uu’ sound. The rune on its own represented joy as well as a letter in matters of rune readins – part of pagan worship at the time.
There was a third rune termed Ingwaz, which I haven’t been able to find making the transition into Old High German and then into Old English. Ingwaz made an ‘ng’ sound, as in ri’ng’. It represented earth as in soil, which is why I find it strange to not have made the same journey as Wynn and Thorn. Any thoughts?
Lies! Its all lies! THE GAME!
Þ and ð are common in icelandic language.
Example -> Það (it), þeir (they), Þór (Thor), maður (man)
Derp will always be a number (:
This is very interesting, but I would rather stick with the alphabet we have now!!! ;D
The English language is fascinating all unto itself.
If I’m not mistaken, Eth (soft “th”) and Thorn (hard “th”) are still used in Iceland.
Old English also used to have the æ/Æ letter for the vowel in “that”, “cat”, “hat” etc.
Þæt wæs god cyning!
So wait what you’re saying is old christians gave us the language we talk now???
Interesting. Very interesting. The picture of the blog reminds me of the characters “The Lord of the Rings” uses. Maybe it’s the same thing. But I know I have seen those characters somewhere before.
“Þ” or “þ” is still used in Icelandic and represents the “th” sound in the word “three”, for example. Similar sound but without the power (air), so to speak (I don´t know the phonetical term for it), is the letter “Ð” or “ð”, which represents the “th” sound in the word “bother”, for example.
Rune on October 11, 2010 at 8:53 pm Thorn was used for the unvoiced th sound (the sound in “thing” or “thorn”) and eth was used for the voiced th sound (the sound in “this” or “that”).
Rune is absolutely correct. In fact, both of these letters still exist in modern Icelandic, and still perform exactly these functions.
well remember that our languges are formed by other ones either extint or alive like for example prefixes and sufixes form our everyday language we also are part or have part in our language some cognate or half and half we also have indoeuropians words. i think is because when societates change they have to accomodate them selves to their language or the languages people speack in their culture .for example i remember the first time i read the word mexico it was with the letter j then x and the other day i was reading a book and faund it with doule ss or messico. thanks keep up the good work
Alorah, you are confusing me. “The” is clearly a voiced th, while “thin” is unvoiced.
Finally the “double u” of w makes sense! What an interesting read. English is probably the most diverse language out there… Could research it endlessly.
wow.. these little daily tips from dictionary.com are almost as useful as the website itself. :]
I use the thorn in some emoticons: “tongue-stuck-out”.
I don’t likee this word very muchh , if youu want to put word of thee day makee it funn duhhh !
@rissa: It’s all because they’re awesome and magical.
To “ALEXANDRA”, if you want to have your kind of fun, go on twitter. This is intellectual fun. In addition, this is not the Word of the Day; it is The Hot Word Blog. Furthermore, “likee” does not mean “like” just as well as “much” is not “muchh”- Duh! (Do you see what I did there? I used it correctly) I am too annoyed to continue. You should have your fingers restricted for public indecency.
yes i do agree with your hypothosis. if we collected enough specimins then mabye it just might work. i will get right on that!
@poopy, areyou sure? Or is it the way you’ve heard most uninformed people pronounce it? which would be most everyone.
@Nathan – Tolkien was a linguist (specializing in Old English and Old Norse), so yes, he borrowed the futhork runes and used them to represent Dwarvish runes where Dwarvish script was needed.
Sure, he invented the languages themselves, but considering his background and expertise, it’s not totally unexpected for him to rip off some of it for a proto-European fantasy world.
man all this linguistics talk is making me relive college, I love it.
The various pronounciations of the YOGH rune is one of the reasons that you have different ways of pronouncing ough in English such as Slough (Slaow), trough (troff), tough (tuff) and so on.
There was a dialectic difference between the different Saxon and Angle tribes. English today is derived from one dialect (called East Midlands) but others did and still do exist.
For example the F and V letter can be either interchangeable or quite distinct depending on dialect.
Likewise the use of dipthongs where vowels run together such as ae or oe are related to dialect. The poem Beowulf was written down in West Saxon and so has more dipthongs including at the start with HWAET (hark!)
@ Erdos: ȝ (yogh) the 3 symbol actually represented gh, not g. It was similar to the phlegmy sound ch in Loch or the gh in Van Gogh.
ᵹ < It originally looked like this. I'm showing the original symbol because some people will probably google it and find both.
I never really understood why we dropped thorn. They still use it in Icelandic in a very similar way to how we did, so really it is efficient than the "th" digraph.
þe problem wiþ using “þ” is þat spell checker doesn’t like it and my eyes at first want to see it as a “b” or a “p” and not a “th.”
It certainly would be more efficient if it could catch on again… and we could get used to it, but þat’s not very likely. :-þ
here in the philippines we have ñ and ng as part of our alphabet..
So it is improper (old) English to yell “I shall run ye through with my pike!”
wow that is soooo kewl i just learned someting new today and thats not what you usally get when your out of college
[...] So many litters — so little time — Proliferating freely — there be a somewhat need for something extinct — the way that things are moving with information overload — and being over run by critters — forget the rhyme — it’s profiteering really — we’re in the wrong precinct — for “thorn and wynn” to bother us — before our heads explode — with useless information — so we’ll sit here curse and cuss — and maybe fart — that’s our situation. — But is it ART?–>>Rupert L.T.Rhyme [...]
who cares about the old alphebet, it doesn’t matter because we don’t even use it. Whats the big deal? =P
This is so cool, considering my name is Wynn!
But, Is the THORN always, aspirated–? (cf THIS v. THISTLE, THINE v. THIN)
And that (font) doesn’t look like a thorn but like the written, lowercase, ‘p’,– like a flower bud not a stem thorn….
And worse– the WYNN looks like a lower-lowercase ‘p’….
Also– The WYNN WEN is actually the original pronunciation, W-nasal W^(n), cf UNE, meaning, one, which is why English-speakers say ‘WUN’ for ONE….
(ONE is actually from O-mega-NE, spelled WNE or UNE….)
And, we used to call, Y, W, L, R, ‘liquid’, because they are strongly like consonants but definitely open like vowels, (and voiced but there are also the unvoiced liquids, Yh, Wh, Lh, Rh, not often current but historic, cf YhWh got changed to YHWH, which hardened to JHWH)…
P.S. It is also interesting to compare the Greek-Y Γ and Y-grec (Fr. term for English ‘Y’) … these are actually two different tonguings that sound almost the same… (And you can hear why they were called, liquid).
(That was not intended as funny-talk but in-fact has good historic evidence: Anwps of Egypt was sent east to Sumer to become the first ‘Watcher in the East’ where he was also known to the later Hebrews, as Enoch, but which is really ChNWK Kh-An-Wk THE-Lord-chief, first son of Cain become first-of Seth because Cain owed Shw Yhw Jehovah a son … Point being, ChNWK, is where we get Schnook … from Lord-Oops…! Ray.)
I thought “ye” could also mean “you”. And how do you make that “þ” sign on the computer? I just copied it from someone else.
Chicken~Knowledge for knowledge’s sake.
coooool geiky stuff never would have known that still need to read story about how the name Friday came from a good looking goddess!!!!!!!!
@Nikki – That was a little harsh on ms.karma. The comments section is a place on HotWord where people can post their thoughts to the public. And if that’s what ms.karma was thinking, she had all rights and liberty to post that.
Not trying to be mean, just saying. I think you’re acting a little superior and maybe the tiniest bit nasty to ms.karma when she didn’t do anything wrong.
Same thing with Alan Turner.
This isn’t your site, it’s not yours to boss people around on.
ð is actually a symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) today. It represents the [th] sound, like in bath, thwart, and math. However, the [th] sound in the words bathe, that, and those is represented by the symbol Ɵ.
@Ruko – Touché
@Chicken pot pie – Shame on you
As people seem interested I would like to add one last little snippet of cool knowledge regarding the whole English/Anglo-Saxon migration and the hurdles in modern language left by our forefathers.
As Keith correctly mentions there were significant differences in pronounciation of dipthongs based on the context of the letter/rune. One of the reasons for this is that Anglo-Saxon contrary to other Germanic languages avoids glottal stop before vowels, this is purely a dialect based artefact influenced by the softer pronouncing Scandinavians then their own countrymen.
This means that any initial vowel in English is generally aspirated, i.e. there is a gentle ‘h’ before it. That’s why in ‘an apple’ the syllables separate because originally an apple was actually called napple and pronounced ‘a – napple’, this prevents the harsh glottal stop you would get from ‘a napple’. Same applies to Ox formerly called Nox and most anglicised words that now start with a vowel.
In areas such as Ireland, Scotland and London, where the accent was affected not only by large quantities of Germanic and Slavik migrants, but also the fashion for speaking like the Germanic Monarchary in the 18th Century , thus readdressing the original Anglo/Saxon legacy. In these accents you hear the glottal stop more pronounced instead of a ‘t’ sound in ‘butter’ you get ‘bu**er’ and instead of ‘water’ you get’wa*er’. In Scotland and Irelands case this is due to the lack of linguistic influence of the invading forces such as the Vikings and Saxons on Gaelic. The Welsh (for the sake of completeness) managed to maintain language and dialect from the influence of most of Englands invaders for many centuries and is therefore very individiual.
@Eternalgreenknight – Looked fine to me…so when are we going to start seeking to change the international standard
@Raymond Petry. They still have the same pronounciation for W/U in Welsh. Like the name Huw which is pronounced slightly rounder than Hugh but few people would notice a difference at all. It’s a weird sound because it’s neither a U or W in Welsh, it’s something in between.
Does anyone know if Wynn and W existed at the same time to represent these two sounds? The sounds of course would have then merged meaning Wynn became obsolete, rather like how Thorn represented the “th” sound, but we still had a T and a H alongside it used mainly in the European way. If anyone gets what I mean.
Still an interesting concept.
@steph: “This isn’t your site, it’s not yours to boss people around on.”
you are right. thank you for your comments.
@nikki: love and peace.
RE: making symbols
With numlock ON, hold ALT and press 4 numbers on the Numpad, IE Alt+0222 = Þ, alt+0254 þ , alt+0208 = Ð I cant ever remember the actual coding for it, but i know that
Alt + 6666666
(6, seven times) makes ¬, which is used in my personal favorite, the unimpressed emoticon ¬_¬
Start Menu – All Programs – accessories – system tools – Charmap
gives you piles and piles of symbols that you can copy from, and learn the Alt-code for. Alot of accented lowercase letters are between 0224 and 0253
geez i’m too confused to figure this all out. make up you’re mind. and better blog today Hot Word, you’re getting better at this.
I have a B.A. in English and I think you people are ALL crazy.
There’s a place in Niedersachsen/Lower Saxony where a dialect said to be close to Old English is still spoken. Those who speak it are descendants of some who migrated there from farther north.
Great article! I was beginning to wonder if the hot word blog had any good info left but clearley you do! Love this, great job. =)
This looks a lot like “Dragon Script” from the book “Dragonology”… But some of the letters are different =P
I think this may also connect to the Norman conquest in 1066. I once read that while the Anglo-Saxons had two distinct letters (thorn and Ev) and also two distinct sounds for “th” (as in feather and theatre), the Normans only had one. Because they were the dominant governmental force at the time, the Norman spelling rules were adopted, but that did not stop the pronunciation rules from being passed from generation to generation. This could explain why we still have two ways of pronouncing the “th,” but only one way of spelling it. Has anyone read something along these lines?
Aye, Rune. I noticed the error, too. The example that was given for thorn (þ) was “th,” as in “that,” rather than “thank.” As I understand it, the “th” in “that” is represented by eth (ð). I know about yogh, often mistaken fir “Z,” hence why Menzies sounds more like Ming’es.
Staphanie, I have not read that; it sounds interesting, though. I have been informed that it is because of the Normans that we have “warrantee,” as well as “guarantee.” there are other word, however, I have forgotten what they are but they are similar in that one version begins with “g,” whislt the other begins with “w.”
It saddens me that so many people are completely uninterested in the origins of their language. Despite that, it is alarming n the nicest possible way to see so many intelligent and thorough comments up there. As for the girl with a B.A in English who thinks we’re all mad, you don’t deserve your degree if you have no passion for your subject, you should respect your language for it is the tool of your ancestors and one of the very important reasons that you are even alive today. I’m gonna leave before the ignorance gets to me too much! xD Take care all
“As for the girl with a B.A in English who thinks we’re all mad, you don’t deserve your degree if you have no passion for your subject,”
At least where I went to college, linguistics and literature fell under two separate majors. (“English” and “Linguistics”, unsurprisingly.) Being interested in higher applications vs technical applications need not be the same thing. Similarly, one may, say, enjoy building a computer but not enjoy writing software code, and another may enjoy programming but dislike working with the actual hardware. And a chemist may like the composition of an ink whereas an artist would enjoy putting that ink to paper.
One need not encompass the entirety of a subject in every manner to enjoy it.
The number 3, as others have noted, is not the same as ȝ (yogh), in fact their similarities are actually purely circumstantial. The number 3 comes to us from the Hindu-Arabic numeral system which came to Europe in the Middle Ages (all the way from India), long after Old English first came on the scene, or long after Futhorc came on the scene which is the origins of the runic symbols used in Old English.
Rather, Roman numerals were used prior to the use of Hindu-Arabic numerals. But suffice to say these two similar looking symbols were developed independently halfway around the world from each other, so there is no relation.
actually, in regards to “ye olde…” – from what I understand of the historic use of Þ, since the Old English character resembles a ‘y,’ long after the letter had been phased out of the language it would be found on signs during archealogical studies. Due to fading of the letters and lack of knowledge of the people of the time, Þ was assumed to be a ‘y’
In Britain I haven’t seen ‘Q’ on a number plate. Is that another disappearing letter?
True to nigel
@Glitchy … I like your humor! (BUT!… to take it as a serious question ANYway…) ;o) …I think the “ye” in your phrase, “I shall run ye through with my pike!” is more akin to, say, the way a stereotypical Pirate would use it… as a ‘lazy,’ or more accurately ‘casual’ or ‘colorful’ pronunciation of “you.” I see it as similar in a way to when we say “See ya!”, especially in print or text. We all know it’s “you”, but to spell it that way imitates the way we say it and conjures the ‘voice’ we mean to say it in…
@everyone in general: It seems odd to me that, as the original essay stated:
“In the Latin alphabet, the “y” was the symbol that most closely resembled the character that represented thorn.”
…(and I’m not arguing the point with the Hot Word author, because I have not studied this, while he/she has!)
…but whereas “thorn,” as we’ve seen — þ — looks like a hybrid of our lowercase “p” and “b” [sharing the same circle with stems going both up (b) and down (p) from it on the left]… the symbol for “wynn,” on the other hand (at least as shown in this conversation — Ƿ –) at least LOOKS like a “y” (with a ‘fork’ diverging from the top of the stem), except that the right-hand ‘branch’ of the two strokes that fork off of the stem curls around to the left, to meet the left-hand ‘branch’ just below the very top, closing the figure instead of leaving it open like our “y”! Now THAT is more of a resemblance in my eyes!
Hey, what do I know, though… Just sayin’!!
It’s been fun following this string!…
Okay… So, I’ve been pondering this, and I don’t think I’ve seen this particular question, or maybe I missed it…
But, according to the author and Hot Word:
“In Old English, a letter called “thorn” represented the “th” sound* (as in “that”) in Modern English.”
So now, I’m saying, Really?… Wouldn’t “þ” — “thorn” — be pronounced the way one would guess, as the perfect example of the soft “th”… as in the way we pronounce THHORN? Why would it sound like ”th” in ”that”?
OR… am I assuming (incorrectly) that our way, now, has ALways been the way “Thorn” is pronounced… Is it perhaps possible that, in fact, they used to say “Thorn” with the harder, VOICED “th”??? (I guess anything is possible…)
If anyone of you bright, linguistically-educated folks notices this post… and if you have any insight on this, can you let me know and alleviate my ‘perplexity’?
[þanks?] or maybe [ðanks?]… or maybe even [Θanks?]…
This will be it for me today, honest!…
But, again, in case one of you clever, linguistically well-informed folks notices this post… I wanted to run this summary past everybody to see if my understanding of what I’ve seen here checks out… (or not!):
The (‘T-crossed’ capital D &/or lowercase delta) — “ETH” — is VOICED [or ‘hard’] … as in THis, THat, or THe?
The (‘Hybrid p/b’) — “THORN” — is UN-VOICED [or ‘soft’] … as in THHree-THHirty, THHeatre, THHrifty, or THHinking?
AND, if I can believe what I think I understood from the post of ‘person’, the (Greek) — “THETA” — is hard and VOICED… as in THese, THose, or bathe…
Let me hear from you if you know if these are accurate assessments! Thanks for any light you can shed!
@Sterling Grey The thorn, þ, was actually used interchangeably with the eth, ð, in Old and Middle English which, obviously, caused pronunciation confusion just as our spelling of “th” does today. They, like the “th,” are used for both voiced (then) and unvoiced (thin) sounds. However, in the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) the eth /ð/ is used to represent a voiced “th” (then) sound whereas the theta /Θ/ is used to represent the unvoiced “th” (thin) sound. (person had it exactly backwards.)
Also, as far as “ye” goes, it was an Old and Middle English second person plural pronoun. So, “I’ll drive ye through!” is the same as “I’ll kill you all!” (basically). Keep in mind, before the printing press was invented in the mid-fifteenth century (1440 I think?), there was no standard for spelling though there were a few attempts at it so people basically spelled phonetically and since dialects can vary greatly, the same word could be spelled quite differently depending on the dialect of the author.
What about “thee” and “thou” and those stuff??? Cool article though!!!!
I find a lot of posters here who have a lot of knowledge on this subject. Perhaps one of you could help me on something that is off topic. I would like to have a source that tells me the origin of how surnames are pronounced.
My last name is Kruse which my family pronounces Crew Zee. I find tracing my family tree that we originated in Gremany, at least so far. But all other names I find with the same spelling are prounced either as Cruise or Kroose (similar to goose).
If any of you have a background that could point me in the right direction for finding information where this unusual pronouncing originates I would appreciate your help.
I hope no one is offended by my getting off point. If you are, my apologies.
‘th’is an example- read ‘The Hobbit’ by J.R.R Tolkien
Reading this, I’m really debating whether or not ‘ye’ was actually pronounced with a YEH sound for the ‘y’ at any point in time in history (save for today where we know so little), since if the y was a substitute for thorne then ye=THee makes absolute and perfect sense both on a pronunciation front AND meaning on all accounts.
So what do you all think? Was it pronouced YEH for ye? Or was it only ever TH thee for the proper pronunciation for ‘ye’? Is there even a way to tell at this point?
I have a question for you guys. Why is Modern English not pronounced the same way as it is written? It seems that Old English was pronounced the same way it was written with all of those old letters which represented a sound each. I’d appreciate if an answer to this could be provided. Thanks!
To all of those questioning the value of this topic, why are you here? If you’re not interested, go read another blog. Understanding why our language takes its present form is not just a lesson in linguistics but in history. Looking at older forms of our language can help us understand & learn other languages with similar roots, and it can help us really comprehend not only the spellings we use but the reasons for various parts of speech. It’s all part of our cultural heritage.
Always interesting to learn how our language and alphabet have evolved.
cool! i wondered for some time what the deal with ‘ye’ was…
It’s an interesting hypothesis,but is it perfectly what it is?…can you explain me why the word- dysfunction is – ‘dys’ instead of ‘dis’ ?
what did the letters look like?
After 4 yrs. of morphology, syntax, phonology, pragmatics and crazy Chomsky’s transformational grammar and of course, his XBar theory etc– I find historical linguistics like this to be so much more fun!…Keep it coming! Thanks for the fun!
I gotta stop looking things up in dictionary.com . I come in here wanting to learn the meaning of a six letter word and end up a half hour latter still reading about the alphabet. Got so engrossed I even forgot about the coffee water I had on the stove… it boiled away! I guess I’ve just got to allow more time to see what’s new in dictionary.com and be prepared to be taunted to stay longer than planned. Isn’t love grand? I love you dictionary.com !
[I am new, so I don't know if I'm supposed to take the bait of someone called "annoy"...]
You got all that in English class? You were very lucky. Possibly privileged, and attending a well-funded public school, or a private one? Arguments about putting food on the table from someone in that situation strike me as moot, if not outright ridiculous. (But moot is a more fun word, so I’ll go with that one.)
it is right that Þ made soft, or voiceless, dental fricative like in thing, think, thin. Ð made voiced dental fricative, hard TH in this, that, breathe bathe and those. Anyone who does not want to read it does not have to, though I would say to the writer to check the facts and keep the linguistic mayhem. I would also say that too many people are happy with our language, and do not give a single thought to its origins and the sound changes it has encountered over time.
Interesting to notice when J.R.R. Tolkien took advantage of this in The Hobbit. Dwarvish runes include the letter Thorn, not with the same rune, but a similar rune: a single rune to depict the sound ‘th’ as in “THe Hobbit.” He was quite a linguistic master and that definitely contributed to creating Elvish, Dwarvish, and his other languages.
While I really enjoy most of the topics and comments on this site, it bothers me how many of the people who post seem to have totally forgotten the rules of punctuation, spelling, etc. The same goes for phone texting. Why have we decided that “R” is acceptable for “are” and “sumn” is acceptable for “something” and so on? Has society as a whole simply decided to dumb its self down for the sake of expediency?
Very interesting article, thankyou. Annoy – not everything is about money and food; etymology ids an example of a civilised activity that man can perform purely for interest – it’s not supposed to be a chore, and just because it’s not directly useful to survival doesn’t make it pointless. Do you think any of science (medicine, engineering etc) would have happened if there hadn’t been concurrent development in those most reviled of learning areas, lingustic expression and maths etc.?
@jamesivan24 J.R.R. Tolkien was also a scholar of middle English. He understood the language’s history very well and incorporated many elements of the history into it.
@all I know this article is older but I wanted to point out 2 things.. 1) ye in “Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe” evolved from handwritten forms of thorn which gradually shifted the loop upward similar to Wynn (after wynn had fallen out of use) and eventually was written as a y with a dot over it. That’s why y was the closest symbol. 2) ye did indeed have a second function as a totally unrelated word. It used to be the second person singular subject pronoun. “Ye are going to the store”.
&jay, if u read this…
kruse sounds like a typically german name. your pronunciation is more or less rather near on the german one, as are the others.
a german would pronounce it crew-se or kroo-se, with s and an e at the end (like in end).
so, what i assume: this missing e in spoken english, at the end in kroose or cruise, should be some sort of shortening for the sake of english speakers.
i dont know how u speak it, but your zee shouldnt be spoken like in see or sea (no difference in german speaking, its spoken like our i). just a short vocal sounding like in ‘end’.
Good Job Hot Word! Pay no attention to ill mannered posts. Keep ‘em coming. Cheers!
Old English Pronunciation.
@Alorah – see the post of Rune (2 before yours). He’s right.
@person – you’ve got it backwards:
θ is unvoiced (thorn, bath, thigh),
ð is voiced (there, tithe, bathe).
Take a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Phonetic_Alphabet
where the unvoiced consonant of an unvoiced/voiced pair always comes first (pb, sz, …).
@Pink – Earlier versions of English (including the modern English of Shakespeare’s era) had two words for the second person, just as do French (tu/vous), German (du, Sie), Czech (ty/vy) and myriad other languages.
Thee and thou were forms of the familiar ‘you’; ye was plural or polite.
Thou is nominative (thou goest, thou art, …),
thee is objective (“How do I love thee, let me count the ways”).
The corresponding plural (or polite singular) pronouns were ye/you. Apparently there was a time when ye was nominative, you objective, but both words eventually assumed both roles.
I wish I could remember where … there’s a Shakespeare scene in which a man is politely referring to a woman as ‘ye,’ but as their argument becomes more heated, he switches to the informal ‘thee/thou,’ considered insulting in such a context.
this was quite interesting, but I think Neanderthals are what I personally could read up on all day. (I’m actually not joking, I find the idea of modern humans, homo sapiens and neanderthals really interesting. might become an archaeologist when i grow up!)
In Icelandic, Þ makes the voiceless TH sound as in “thin”, and Ð makes its voiced counterpart, as in “then”.
Weirdly, this wasn’t the case in Anglo-saxon, where the two letters were used more or less randomly. There are manuscripts that have “þæt” on one line and “ðæt” on the next. This didn’t cause any real problems in Anglo-saxon, ‘cos in fact the two sounds were just positional variants of the same phoneme (voiced between vowels, otherwise unvoiced).
It’s not clear why they invented two letters to serve the same function. Possibly some (but not all) Christians were uncomfortable with “þ” because the association of the runic alphabet with paganism.
To Sterling Grey: It surprised me to see your name (again). I used to have a close friend by that name. (He was a judge in Nashville, TN.) And, in case you wonder, I was never a hapless defendant appearing before him in his line-of-work. In fact, he played (tuba) in the same orchestra in which I played (‘cello). Sadly, he died (by his own hand) of a bullet-wound. Odd as it may seem, I also had another close friend who was a (probate) judge in Nashville, and he also died in very-much the same way. (He was a Viet Nam veteran, who suffered from either PTSD or culture-shock — we’re not quite sure which it was.)
I enjoyed reading your erudite comments. I cannot tell where you are from, which I think would be interesting to know. You may contact me, if you wish, at email@example.com
Interesting. I honestly don’t understand why they’ve been omitted. It would make much more sense. I also don’t feel we have a need for C (because any sound it makes could be made by K or S), unless it was changed so that it made only the “ch” (as in “chair”) sound. Q and X are rather pointless as well. I think we’d be better off if each letter only made one sound, and there was a letter for every sound. But something tells me we’re done messing with the alphabet. Too bad. Very interesting, thank you for sharing!
[...] The ampersand isn’t the only former member of the alphabet. Learn what led to the extinction of the thorn and the wynn. [...]
omg, never knew that, like they say, u learn a new thing, EVERY DAY. haha, lol!! (;
@Nigel from New Zealand – Q on British car registrations is reserved for rebuilt vehicles (or kit cars, you see a few Super 7s with it), so is fairly rare.
To the few people who asked if “ye” was never actually used for “you”, that adds another layer of confusion, as ye was (and sometimes still is) used in Scottish and English in some parts of Northern England, so you’d get a mix of “ye” and “thee”
oh really interesting!!!
Thorn is still used by sign writers, especially on pub signs. People pronounce it as a ‘y’ (‘Ye Olde Pubbe’) but it’s a genuine thorn. It’s use in ordinary writing was last seen in the 17th Century.
Most of these letters dropped out of use as printing was introduced around 1500, since the first printing presses were made on the continent and didn’t have eth, yoch or thorn.
Yoch is still used as the lower case of z in some forms of handwriting, but in Scotland it’s often still treated as a yoch. The first name of the politician Menzies Campbell is pronounced ‘menghis’ and is abbreviated to ‘Ming’.
[...] Þ had a somewhat more interesting history. People started substituting the letter “Y” for the letter “Þ”, while keeping the pronunciation as “th”. Thus, you would pronounce “Ye Olde Shoppe” as “The Old Shop”. (source) [...]
“put clothes on you & your families backs”
About the “YOGH”, when it’s symbol is reversed, it looks like the Arabic letter (‘ayn)
which depending upon how it’s used, may represent a glottal stop. More importantly, there is another letter, “ghain” غ
which sound like gh. Because our alphabet is written backwards(semitic languages are written right to left), I propose the symbol was “flipped” when it came into usage as a “yogh”. In addition, the arabic-indic numeric system utilizes a similar looking numeral, ٤, to represent 4 (strange; it looks like a flipped 3, right?).
I taught myself the Arabic alphabet and language, then transitioned to various dialects of Persian.
Fascinating! Glad to see i’m not the only one who could read about this all day!
Interesting that the runes pictured on the left of the article are now used for divining. Perhaps there is a subtle energy or power to words and letters after all!
For: “pissed on October 12, 2010 at 4:15 am”.
I understand that I’m a bit out of sync responding to this comment, but having learned and having used correctly the English language (and always acknowledging my errors when I make them) I’ve to comment on the above referenced post.
If you have no interest in English grammar, spelling and etymology I can empathize, that they are very confusing and difficult to understand. However, if you plan to speak or write the English language (especially posting it on the Internet for the entire world to see) at least make sure to spell check and proof the document first (the posting referenced above a case in point).
We in America don’t expect people to use the ‘Kings English’. However, it would be nice not to have to stop reading to make mental corrections to a document, to be clear that we understand what a person has written.
@ashis (21 Apr ‘11): good question. The prefixes dys + dis have two totally meanings. Dys (which I believe originated from Greek) indicates a malfunction or abnormality of some sort, or impaired or difficult. Dyspepsia = indigestion. Dysfunctional = impaired or abnormal functioning; dyslexia I’m sure you recognise; and so on. Dis (from Latin) essentially = not or taking away from, or apart, away, utterly; or having some kind of negative or reversive impact. Disgust literally means take away the flavour or taste of something. Disconnect, disrobe, disappear…you get it now
james (29 Sept ‘11): I thought the same thing when I read these comments, though I’m not certain there is a relevancy/link. No doubt you’ve also encountered, in Farsi, the interesting correlation of the “pe” + “he” equalling something very near to “fe” as we in English combine p + h to obtain “f”. BTW getting a handle on Nasta’liq after a lifetime of writing in Nashq sure makes me crazy… ;-D
crappydame (3 Sept ‘11): Touché, madame!
Sterling Grey (23 Mar ‘11) & Glitchy: “I shall run ye through with my pike!” is, in fact, neither [questionable] Old English nor Pirate. It’s the standard Jersey Driverese exchange encountered on I-80 and 287 weekdays in heavy traffic.
Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry (12 Oct ‘10): Your comments are very interesting, (& most creative regdg the etymology of Schnook, I laughed…our German-speaking friends wd be quite amused by that one*) but w/ regard to the use of YHWH and JHWH which resulted in the creation and use of the word Jehovah and later, Yahweh (they did not develop from the liquid YhWh but were directly, if very inaccurately, lifted from the Hebrew scriptures)), these two words are not only fabrications based on a centuries-old, major misinterpetation of the original texts which unfortunately continues to the present; they are considered blasphemous in the Jewish faith. Once I understood the underlying meaning and the sacredness of the original terminology I came to feel the same way…below is the explanation as best I can put it:
*http://www.etymonline.com/ http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=shnook http://www.thefreedictionary.com/schnook
In the Hebrew scriptures, every place where the above word we know as “G-d” appears, in the text (written R->L) you’ll see four Hebrew letters: Yodh, Het, Vav, Het. Their pronunciation on their own is basically “y-h-v-h”…but keep in mind they’re all consonants (the vowel sounds are provided by additional markings above & below the letters known as points), and that w/o knowing what the vowel sounds are, you won’t have any better idea how to pronounce the word than if I wrote “lft, lttr, pst”. I could be thinking of lift, letter, post; or left, latter and past. And just as the meaning changes drastically in English, so it does in Hebrew.
This word for G-d was so holy it was never even to be spoken aloud…The word was so ancient I am not certain if the pronunciation was in fact remembered by the time of writing. But NOBODY ever did or would, in reciting, and later reading, Scripture, look at that most holy word and say “Yhvh” or anything close. The word that was always substituted, and is used to this day, is the word “Adonoi” (another meaning for “G-d”).
But WAIT, THERE’S MORE! When these portions of Scripture were written down, the scribes wrote the consonants Yodh-Het-Vav-Het, but used the vowel signs for Adonoi. This word is abbreviated as Yodh-yodh, or Y-y and the vowel signs are “ah-oh-aw” (sound familiar?)…and here is how we got to the awful mix-up of that most-wretchedly misinterpreted word Yahweh: the writers of Scripture wrote the four YHVH consonants, then applied the vowel signs for the word Adonoi, so that the reader would know to say “Adonoi” when he/she got to that word; and there was never confusion on this point…that is, until the Europeans came along and decided to translate it on their own. Oy, such a mess they could have saved themselves! – if they had just – asked us for a little help.
As you’ve likely figured out by now, the older use of J for modern-day Y-beginning words, and switching of W for V, just complicated the initial error, and led to creation of the term “Jehovah”. [anybody still awake?] OK, anybody who hasn’t yet fallen asleep is now an expert on the subject of this misbegotten word. So, as no one in my parish would ever think to say…Mazel tov!
…So it is improper (old) English to yell “I shall run ye through with my pike!” …
Yes, it is bad English. I assume you really talking to one person so then it would be: I shall run thee (þee) thru (þru) with my pike.
Ye was (and still is) the second person SUBJECTIVE plural. The objective plural was you. Further, the T-V distinction (using ye as a polite form) did not happen until after the Norman conquest in 1066 and it took a couple hundred years for it to kind of take hold. In Anglo-Saxon (Old English) there was no T-V distinction (tu-vos from Latin … which, ironically, originally also did not originally use vos as a polite form). Anglo-Saxon was truly the language of equals in this regard.
“In Old English, thou was governed by a simple rule: thou addressed one person, and ye more than one. After the Norman Conquest, which marks the beginning of the French vocabulary influence that characterized the Middle English period, thou was gradually replaced by the plural ye as the form of address for a superior person and later for an equal. …
The practice of matching singular and plural forms with informal and formal connotations is called the T-V distinction, and in English is largely due to the influence of French.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thou
As for how to get the letter þ … on a mac, make sure that you have the extended keyboard selected in your setup, then it is opt + t, (ð = opt +d)
For a PC, try using AltGr+t on a modern US-International keyboard.
so, before, what letter represented the “y” sound?
@ vcm on February 3, 2011 at 6:07 am: Well said, bravo! To each, his own!
Today’s English language has a vast, complex and often fascinating history indeed… for those of us who are interested!
The Thorn is still used in phonetics, where it is written like a Y that crosses it’s tail, while the other “th” sound is represented by the Greek letter Theta. (A circle with a line through it)
According to my Phonetics professor (back in the VERY old days of my undergraduate studies), the Thorn looked a lot like a Y to very early printers, who knew the original letter. Using a “Y” to replace “TH” when setting print by hand (a very labor intensive job) meant one less little metal letter to set, but the convention was to use the Y as a Thorn only as an initial sound, as in “Ye Olde”, to avoid confusion to a newly literate middle class.
That whole ‘thorn’ and ‘Ye Olde Bookshop’ thing sort of just blew my mind.
I love dictionary.com.
Yes… well, for today’s English language you can blame Johnson, the Bible, and Shakespeare, respectively. For almost two centuries, (since Gutenberg, basically) what most literate people read was the bible. The second most popular thing to read and or watch was Shakespeare, and between the two they normalized the language in such a way it hasn’t really changed much since then. Samuel Johnson was the guy who wrote the first Dictionary. He normalized spelling conventions, which before then were pretty chaotic.
Well, if my education can be believed, anyway. It’s a pretty big generalization, but approximately correct in broad strokes.
[...] of how the alphabet relates to early civilization here: The alphabet used to have other letters — meet two | The Hot Word | Hot & Trending Words D…. 40.791389 -77.858611 Share this: Pin ItEmailShare on TumblrMorePrintDiggLike this:LikeBe the [...]
“Great info my lads of knowledge” god would say to u guys who posted a lot of info in one comment
In the (9-10th century) Wessobrunn poem in old-highgerman, which describes God’s creation of the earth, it reads as follows:
“Dat ero ni uuas noh ufhimil (That earth wasn’t nor heaven above)
noh paum noh pereg ni uuas” (nor tree or mountai, there wasn’t)
uuas was pronounced “waas”and noh as “noch”, as in ach.
The “w” was actually a handwritten as uu, (fusing the 2 center upstrokes into one,) rather than the vv found in print.
That word you mentioned, “geardagum”, looks and sounds suspiciously much like the Icelandic word “gærdagur” which (in modern Icelandic anyway) means “yesterday”.
The story of death and rebirth are common place during this time of year. The tale of resurrection has been told by many different people all over the world… Attis, Mithras, Adonis, Tammuz, Orpheus. and Jesus. Their stories go hand in hand with one another – Jesus being the last…. so far. I wonder who, when, where and how this amazing story will re-tell itself in the future.
I was once Christian and I have some wonderful friends which to this day are Christians but I wanted/needed something more so i return back to my roots. Today after holding the priesthood – I am Pagan/Wiccan.
Every man, woman and child has a right to believe whatever, whomever they like and should not this be the way of it – to do so without the hate and ugly comments made by others because a person feels, looks and worships differently.
To all that have dared to post – Have a wonderful and full-filling life.
…and You said backwards is We, LOL. Many “Con-sonants” are formed by “Vow-Els”. When you say the letter “Y” it sounds like uu-i and it naturally forms a “W” between the “uu” and “i”. For instance, many people believe the Tetragrammaton is YaHWeH but it is really all Vowels (Vow-El) in the original Proto-Sinaitic AlefBet and is pronounced I-A-O-A. I as in “This”, A as in “Father”, O as in “Food” and A as in “Day”. The Consonants Y, H, and W form naturally in between the Vowels. All languages came from one. Think about the Prefixes and Suffixes Con and Able. Con (Cain) is “Against” something and Able “For” something. The original language was all vowels, it is the most beautiful thing you will most likely never hear.
PS The Tetragrammaton really is only Three Letters and “Wav” and the second “Hay” are not part of it, although a Vowel is formed if you pronounce It properly. Exodus 3.14 is where you will find the Infinite. It is strange that men would divide the Word that way. You may even find the Center of Everything there, it is a Rush, start in the middle and go both ways. I won’t get into what you can find between the Two Pillars at the entrance to the Holy of Holies. Yeah I know, I’m off topic. Sorry but it is all relevant.
I have never understood why there is no letter for th, one of most common sounds in the English language. I now learn that there was one and it was dropped. Why? Why? Let’s bring it back!
This is all fascinating, all I can say is:
Who can translate the quickest?
Stewart7: Chesstnutss, my preciouss!
“Too wise you are, too wise you be,
I see you are too wise for me.”
To clear up the “Y” in “ye” question: if you look closely at eth ( ð ), that little crossbar on the d-upstroke looks like a lowercase-y, and the rest of the letter below it looks like the loop on a script-y. So “ðe” looks like “ye” to someone unfamiliar with eth. And as eth is voiced-th, it is of course used to spell “the”.
Ƿᛝ ≠ ∞ ; Ƿᛝ = •
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yis is so auusome!
A New Zealander comments that he hasn’t seen Q on a British numberplate. It does occur, but as other letters are used to denote the age of the vehicle, Q is reserved for those which have been so restored or modified that they cannot be dated. Ex-Army vehicles also have Qs because Army numberplates are distinct and cannot be used on civilian-owned vehicles.
Written and spoken English kan be improved. A few suggestions:
-abandon digrafs such as ‘th’ and ‘ph’ unless one means to pronounse þem as in Latin;
-restore usage of ye as þe sekond person plural pronoun;
-use distinkt endings for verbs and nouns according both to their kase (subjektive, objektive, etk.) and number; and
-eliminate redundant konsonants exsept as needed for foreign words and frases not yet kommon in English. C and Q come to mind.
Þe þird, restoring inflektions, would permit more flexible word order þat, in turn, would inkrease þe amount of meaning konveyable wiþ a given number of words. Using þorn would be a praktical way to improve one’s visual akuity, too.
Difþongs, also, kould be changed or added. For example, Powl, instead of Paul, to indikate the pronunsiation used in klassikal Latin. In fakt, why not use π instead of p to sπell πronunsiation? Op peπlase r wiþ po in πponunsiation?
Wpitten and sπoken English kan be imπpoved, and fop þose of us in Amepika þe imπrovements would have addishional utility: To seπapate oupselves fpom tpoublemakeps like Demokpats, Peπublikans, and the lawyeps of þe Fedepalist Sosiety.
Now, wut about ‘ch’, ‘ng’, and ’sh’?
Actually, “Ye” was the second person plural pronoun which doesn’t exist as a single word in modern English and descends from the ancestor of High German’s “Ihr” (pronounced like “ear”). This was a pronoun rather than an article, also used as the possessive of the second-person plural pronoun.
So “Ye Olde Book Shoppe” would mean “You all’s book store”, rather than simply “the bookstore.”
I’d love you to show your research sources on this. Otherwise, excellent and informative article.
Just because it’s bothering me.
First, the article says that y replaces thorn, which is not true. The letter ‘y’ was imported with the Latin alphabet, and was used by the Anglo-Saxons to represent a high front rounded vowel, such as the “ue” in Modern German.
Second, eth and thorn were used indiscriminately. There was no distinction making one for one kind of ‘th’ and the other for another ‘th’. They both represented either kind, and were used interchangeably. The only difference was that thorn derived from the Runic alphabet, and eth derived from the Roman.
The 3-looking letter yogh represented ‘gh’, and is derived from the old (insular) form of the letter ‘g’, as someone pointed out earlier.
COOL! this article links to lots of other random ones but thats good and btw wynn is such a pretty word!! thorn woulda been soooooooooooo useful!!!! we need to add that back and also a letter for sh and ch. mayb ck too
To Dracodis: Thx 4 the info. im SO gonna tell my English teacher that!
What about the British ae symbol?
In Old English, it was known as “æsc”; this has become “ash” in Modern English.
To Everybody: Thanks for the healthy discussion, this adds so much more knowledge to what the article already has to offer. To Nate: I study German, and ‘ihr’ is not pronounced as ‘ear’; ‘ihr’ has a little more of an open-ended lilt to it where the r is concerned and is definitely more broken-up than smooth, kind of like pronouncing ‘e’ first and then ‘ar’. But these things are hard to explain in words, they must be heard. Sorry I’m so nit-picky, it’s a bit of a fix. :<
**crazy, I just realized that’s how you pronounce ‘ear’. This is now embarrassing. And yet there is still a difference! But this is not article-relevant, so accept the nit-picking apology and ignore me.
[...] together actually became quite popular, enough so that they literally became stuck together and became the letter W (which, you’ll notice, is actually two [...]
Bless all you guys. Not because you’re so damn smart, but
because you’re so damn curious about this kind of stuff. Long
live the Geeks of the world.