Skip to main content

The Lost Letter Eth (ð)

Image result for letter eth
Capital and lowercase letter eth.  May Þey rest in peace.




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

Kick the Football, Charlie Brown

What's the lesson here? For nearly the entire run of Charles Schulz's Peanuts  comic strip, one running gag has been the football gag.  The gag is simple: Lucy Van Pelt kneels down on the grass, holding a football in place, and tells Charlie Brown to kick it.  Charlie Brown gets a good running start, ready to give it a good, solid kick, but at the last minute, Lucy pulls it away.  The final panel usually has a miserable Charlie Brown laying on the ground while Lucy looks over him, holding the football, telling him in one way or another that he obviously shouldn't have trusted her. The gag first appeared on November 14, 1951, when the strip was just over a year old.  In the first occurrence, the football was not held by Lucy but by Violet Gray, another little girl in Charlie Brown’s neighborhood.  (Violet would later become a minor character in the strip, and Lucy would become a major one.   Lucy wouldn’t appear in the strip until the following year.)  The f

43-Man Squamish: An Innovation in Athletics

For some people, one of the most tantalizing challenges is being told, explicitly or implicitly, that you can’t do something.  In 1965, MAD magazine writer Tom Koch laid down one such challenge.  He wrote an article laying out the rules of a sport he invented called 43-man squamish.  The article was illustrated by artist George Woodbridge, and judging by the mail MAD received from its readers, it was a huge hit.  Of course, Koch didn’t really intend the article to b e a challenge.  His idea was to invent a sport that was complex, convoluted, absurd, and ultimately unplayable.  It featured the kind of text readers of MAD, not athletes, would expect.  It’s an uncommon sport that has instructions like, “The offensive team, upon receiving the Pritz, receives five Snivels in which to advance to the enemy goal.  If they do it on the ground, it’s a Woomik and counts as 17 points.  If they hit it across with their Frullips it’s a Dermish which only counts points.  Only the offensive Nibling

CNN: Space Shuttle traveled 18 times the speed of light

The CNN headline is not necessarily inaccurate because what we accept as the standard speed of light, 186,000 miles (300,000 kilometers) per second, is more of an average of the speeds of faster and slower lights. Ordinary light, like what we typically get from the sun, typically sticks to the average speed of light. However, here in Boston it's overcast, so when the light hits the clouds it has to slow down considerably. When the light gets through the clouds it's slowed down, which is why things look grayer right now. On bright days, when there are no clouds to impede the light, it can come rushing right at the earth, and its speed makes it seem brighter. Brightness is relative to the speed of light, which is what the Theory of Relativity is all about. The Space Shuttle, flying on a cloudy day and over a part of the country without a lot of artificial light emanating from it, was flying relatively faster than the light in that area at that time. Since the light was th