Thorn (letter)

Thorn, or þorn (Þ, þ), is a letter in the Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic alphabets. It was also used in medieval Scandinavia, but was later replaced with the digraph "th." The letter originated from the rune Runic| in the Elder Fuþark, called "thorn" in the Anglo-Saxon and "thorn" or "thurs" ("giant") in the Scandinavian rune poems, its reconstructed Proto-Germanic name being "*Thurisaz."

It has the sound of either a voiceless dental fricative, like "th" as in the English word "thick", or a voiced dental fricative, like "th" as in the English word "the". In Modern Icelandic the usage is restricted to the former. The voiced form is represented with the letter eth (Ð, ð), though eth can be unvoiced, depending on position within a sentence, in which case its IPA representation is given as θ (theta).

In its typography, the thorn is one of the few characters in the alphabets derived from the Latin where the modern lower case form has greater height than the capital in its normal (roman), non-italic form.

English usage

Old English

The letter thorn was used for writing Old English very early on, like ð; but unlike ð, it remained in common usage through most of the Middle English period. A thorn with the ascender crossed (".

Middle and Early Modern English

The modern digraph "th" began to grow in popularity during the 14th century; at the same time, the shape of thorn grew less distinctive, with the letter losing its ascender (becoming similar in appearance to the old wynn (latinx|Ƿ, ƿ), which had fallen out of use by 1300) and, in some hands, such as that of the scribe of the unique mid-15th century manuscript of "The Boke of Margery Kempe", ultimately becoming indistinguishable from the letter Y. By this stage "th" was predominant, however, and the usage of thorn was largely restricted to certain common words and abbreviations. In William Caxton's pioneering printed English, it is rare except in an abbreviated "the", written with a thorn and a superscript E. This was the longest-lived usage, though the substitution of Y for thorn soon became ubiquitous, leading to the common 'ye's as in 'Ye Olde Curiositie Shoppe'. One major reason for this is that Y existed in the printer's type fonts that were imported from Germany or Italy, and Thorn did not. The first printing of the King James Version of the Bible in 1611 used the Y form of thorn with a superscript E in places such as Job 1:9, John 15:1, and Romans 15:29. It also used a similar form with a superscript T, which was an abbreviated "that", in places such as 2 Corinthians 13:7. All were replaced in later printings by "the" or "that", respectively.

Abbreviations

The following were abbreviations during Middle and Early Modern English using the letter thorn:
* – ("Y^e") a Middle English abbreviation for the word "the"
* – ("Y^t") a Middle English abbreviation for the word "that"
* " (which was written early on as "þu" or "þou")
* ("Y^s") an Early Modern English abbreviation for the word "this"
* – ("Y^e") an Early Modern English abbreviation for the word "the"
* – ("Y^t") an Early Modern English abbreviation for the word "that"

Modern English

Thorn in the form of a "Y" survives to this day in pseudo-archaic usages, particularly the stock prefix "Ye olde". The definite article spelled with "Y" for thorn is often jocularly or mistakenly pronounced /IPA|ji/ or mistaken for the archaic nominative case of "you," written "ye". It is used infrequently in some modern English word games to replace the "th" with a single letter.

On computers

Þ and þ are part of Unicode and can be found at U+00DE and U+00FE respectively. Thorn can also be typed on a normal QWERTY keyboard by typing Alt+0222 (Þ) and Alt+0254 (þ) on the keypad (if you are using Windows). The character can be typed directly from a standard Icelandic keyboard, with a CTRL key-combination from a Canadian Multilingual Standard or with AltGr from a US-International keyboard, but is not found on most keyboard layouts.

Different operating systems and window managers allow users to access the character in different ways. Almost all have some form of character map utility that allows users to copy and paste the character into a text. Word processing software such as OpenOffice.org Writer or Microsoft Word have similar utilities. Also, users often can switch keyboard layouts, customise an existing keyboard layout, or enter the letter directly using a character code. Advice on accessing the character on specific operating systems can be found in many places on the Internet (e.g. for X Window: [http://people.uleth.ca/~daniel.odonnell/Blog/custom-keyboard-in-linuxx11] ).

Popular culture

* The thorn rune is used as a symbol of evil in some films in the "Halloween" series.
* Thorn is sometimes used as part of the emoticon :-þ (or =Þ, :Þ, :þ, :-Þ, ;Þ), representing a face with a tongue sticking out. Another emoticon, depicting a man in a hat is (-:þ.

See also

* Pronunciation of English th
* Sho (letter)

External links

* Michael Everson's essay [http://www.evertype.com/standards/wynnyogh/thorn.html On the status of the Latin letter þorn and of its sorting order]
* Alexander S. Peak's essay [http://tiger.towson.edu/~apeak1/ww/thp/2008/forthereturnofthorn.html For The Return of Þorn!]
* Oxford Dictionary's FAQ: [http://www.askoxford.com/asktheexperts/faq/aboutspelling/ye Why is 'ye' used instead of 'the' in antique English?]
* [http://briem.ismennt.is/2/2.11/ Thorn and Eth: How to get them right]

References

* Freeborn, Dennis (1992). "From Old English to Standard English". London: MacMillan.


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