Skip to main content

Eth and Thorn

Image result for eth thorn


In Old English and Middle English there were two letters that we don’t use today: Þ and Ð (called thorn and eth—written in lowercase as Þ and ð).  Thorn was the hard th sound, like you hear in the word then; eth could be used for the soft th sound, as in thin, but could also be used for the hard th.  Eth slowly disappeared from English writing, falling out of use by the year 1300.  Thorn lasted a while longer, maybe another century, but its demise was hastened by the popularity of printing.  Signs and handbills were printed on paper with sets of wooden blocks.  The best blocks came from Germany and Italy, where the languages don’t have the th sound at all, so these sets included no thorn or eth blocks.  To fill the need of the missing thorn, printers would just use the letter Y instead.  This is why you would often see medieval signs like “Ye Olde Bakery”.  This is just because the printers couldn’t print “Þe Olde Bakery”!  Of course they could paint signs with any letters they wanted, but as printed material grew more common, so did ye.  If you lived in medieval times and could read, you knew this was pronounced the way we pronounce the today.

The letters eth and thorn are still used in modern Icelandic. 

Þat’s all, folks.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Alcock and Brown: The First Transatlantic Flight

Since his celebrated landing in Paris 90 years ago, we often hear of Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic.  He flew solo, taking off from Roosevelt Field in Brooklyn and landing in Le Bourget field in Paris after a flight of 33½ hours in his cramped, lightweight plane, The Spirit of Saint Louis.  Lindbergh was one of several individuals or teams who were competing for the Orteig Prize: a $25,000 purse offered to the first to fly from New York to Paris, offered by wealthy New York hotelier Raymond Orteig.  Lindbergh took off and landed perfectly, and managed to navigate the whole way without getting lost.  This was quite a feat in the days before computers to aid navigation, or the elaborate system of air traffic control that would come into being, once commercial airlines started to develop.  What Lindbergh did immediately made him an international hero and a household name for years after, with streets and buildings and yes, airports, named after him.  To this day, Charles …

Popeye: Casinos, Moochers, and Adventures Across the Fourth Dimension

In 1929, the plot of the daily comic strip Thimble Theater, was starting another adventure.  The plot sent one of its main characters, Castor Oyl, down to the docks of the fictional town of Sweet Haven to find transport to Dice Island, where he intended to break the bank at Fadewell’s Casino.  Castor was sure he could do it, because he’d recently acquired Bernice, a rare bird called a wiffle hen, which brings good luck when you rub her head.  To get to Dice Island, Castor needed to find a sailor, and find one he did.  Sitting by the docks was a one-eyed, tough-looking old mariner smoking a corncob pipe.  No one knew it yet, not even Elzie Segar, the strip’s creator, but Thimble Theater was about to acquire a new star.  This was the entrance of Popeye the Sailor into the strip, and into American culture.


Castor Oyl first encounters Popeye, January 17, 1929.

From the beginning, Popeye was tough.  More than tough: he was indestructible.  He could get punched, knocked on the head, and eve…