Online Tuition in the Palaeography of Scottish Documents

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Letter thorn

When reading sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century documents written in Scotland expect to come across a letter which is now defunct, and which, confusingly, looks like a y. This is the archaic letter thorn. It fell out of use because of the standardisation of letters by printers.

The thorn looks very like a y, and represented the sound th. In the image below, the word the starts with a thorn.


This is why today one can find signs saying things like Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe. This is a misrepresentation. People in the past did not say 'ye' they said 'the'; it's just that they had a separate letter, the thorn, which denoted the sound th. When transcribing a thorn, write th.

Short words beginning with a thorn were often abbreviated. For example the word in Figure 4 is that written with a thorn and a superscript t superscript to show that something is missing - in this case the letter a. It should be subscribed th[a]t


It is also possible to find thorn in the middle of common words as shown below with oth[e]r and broth[e]r.

oth[e]r broth[e]r