Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

I'm going to teach you something you'll actually think is cool.

  1. Dec 27, 2008 #1
    First I have to set this up. Take the words feather and theater, and the th in each one. In old English they didn't use the 'th' they had a different letter for that sound. Actually they had two different letters one for the 'th' in feather and one for the 'th' in theater. Sometimes when printers were printing papers back then they would run out of these 'th' replacements so they would use a different letter. What letter would they use? The answer is 'y'. Now you might say so what, that isn't so cool, but you would be wrong. Next time you see something named something like "Ye Olde Sausage Hut" make sure you pronounce it "THE Olde Sausage Hut." Ye was never meant to sound like 'Ye" it has always been "the" pretty cool huh?

    Here's another one. How do you pronounce the word "Ghoti" Think of the words laugh, women, condition. The correct pronunciation is:
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 27, 2008 #2

    I don't think that pronounciation of 'ghoti' works since those sounds for those letter usuages are context sensative.
  4. Dec 27, 2008 #3

    so is this why i thought Beowulf was a complete waste of time in high school? (i didn't like shakespeare, either, if you must know.)

    and this thread is kind of useless without the actual symbols for the th's, dontcha think?
  5. Dec 27, 2008 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Alternatively, it could be thought of as an example of the ease of spelling in the English language: the word /ˈfɪʃ/ is spelt fish and not ghoti.
  6. Dec 27, 2008 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Constructed by George Bernard Shaw, in fact.

    And the part about the printers is just false. Why would it be only "th" that printers ran out of? And why would they always use "y"? In Anglo Saxon, there was a letter, called the "thorn" that represented the sound "th" and was written like a "y". That is where "Ye" came from.
  7. Dec 27, 2008 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

  8. Dec 27, 2008 #7
    there are two ways to say the th sound, feather (voiced) and theatre (unvoiced). Because we inherited a Roman alphabet some English sounds were not represented in the alphabet. The Anglo Saxons solved the th problem by inventing a letter called thorn, from an old Norse rune. Then later they invented another th letter called eth, also from Norse. In the Norse language thorn and eth distinguished between voiced and unvoiced, but in Old english they were both simply th. Thorn and eth were used up until the Norman conquest then they were dropped, then they made a come back. Printers didn't always have thorn and eth so they used the letter y.
    I got this from Prof. Michael DC Drout, professor of English at Wheaton College where he chairs the English department. He received his doctorate in medieval literature from Loyola in 1997, an MA from Stanford and an MA from Univ. of Missouri,Columbia and a BA from Carnegie Melon. This story comes from a series of lectures entitled A Way with Words III, Understanding Grammar for Powerful Communication. These lectures were put out by The Modern Scholar.

    Edit: Thinking about it, the reason they chose the y as a replacement probably was the resemblance it had to a handwritten thorn and eth talked about in the wikipedia article. Without any thorns or eths to use the printers probably figured y was the logical choice.
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2008
  9. Dec 27, 2008 #8
    OMG we have butchered the olde English language. :biggrin:

    http://www.tha-engliscan-gesithas.org.uk/readings/readings.html [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  10. Dec 27, 2008 #9

    Chi Meson

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Eth and thorn are still used in Icelandic.
  11. Dec 27, 2008 #10


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    You're right, trib. I do think this is cool and I never knew that about "Ye" that we see so often. Very nice.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Similar Discussions: I'm going to teach you something you'll actually think is cool.