Thorn – the first character is a capital, the second is in lower case.

Did you know that there is a letter missing in the English alphabet? It’s a real letter. As well as the image at the head of this article, most readers should also be able to see it in the text. Here is capital thorn: Þ and here is the lower case version þ. When part of a word ‚thorn’ is pronounced ‚th’ so it was originally spelt þorn. So what happened to thorn?

English is comprised of a mix of source languages, including: Anglo-Saxon, Latin, classical Greek and French. Medieval English contained a variety of signs for the ‚th’ sound – the digraph ‚TH’, the thorn , and the eth (or thok ). Thorn dates back to the Anglo-Saxon fuþorc alphabet and was one of the most frequently used. Then came the advent of printing. The first presses used type which was cast in countries which did not have thorn in their alphabets so early English printers replaced ‚þ’ with ‚y’ instead. But this usage was ambiguous and over time ‚y’ was dropped in favour of ‚th’. Thorn is alive and well in Iceland and lingers on in England in the pseudo old English ‚Ye Olde’.

The question as to when to use ‚the’, ‚a’ or no article at all is the one over which 99% of most non-native English users stumble. ‚Thorn’ – albeit in its bastardised ‚th’ form – continues to be a thorn in the side of Polish to English translators!



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