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definition - Thorn_(letter)

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Thorn (letter)

  Upper- and lower-case versions of the thorn character

Thorn or þorn (Þ, þ), is a letter in the Old English, Gothic, Old Norse, and Icelandic alphabets, as well as some dialects of Middle English. It was also used in medieval Scandinavia, but was later replaced with the digraph th, except in Iceland where it survives. The letter originated from the rune 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 [θ], like th as in the English word thick, or a voiced dental fricative [ð], like th as in the English word the. Modern Icelandic usage generally excludes the latter, which is instead represented with the letter eth (Ð, ð), however the pronunciation of words beginning with a þ often depends on that word's position within a sentence, being pronounced [θ] if the word is at the beginning of a sentence but [ð] otherwise. Þ in modern Icelandic also has a voiceless allophone [θ], which occurs in certain positions within a phrase.

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




  Old English

The letter thorn was used for writing Old English very early on, as was ð; but, unlike ð, thorn remained in common use through most of the Middle English period. Both letters were used for the phoneme /θ/, sometimes by the same scribe. This sound was regularly realized in Old English as the voiced fricative [ð] between voiced sounds, but either letter could be used to write it; the modern use of [ð] in phonetic alphabets is not the same as the Old English orthographic use. A thorn with the ascender crossed () was a popular abbreviation for the word that.

  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 (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' 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.


The following were abbreviations during Middle and Early Modern English using the letter thorn:

  • ME ye.png – (þe) a Middle English abbreviation for the word the
  • ME that.png – (þt) a Middle English abbreviation for the word that
  • ME thou.png – (þu) a rare Middle English abbreviation for the word thou (which was written early on as þu or þou)
  • (ys) an Early Modern English abbreviation for the word this
  • EME ye.svg – (ye) an Early Modern English abbreviation for the word the
  • EME that.svg – (yt) an Early Modern English abbreviation for the word that
  An example of the last vestige of the letter thorn in the English language.

  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 /jiː/ or mistaken for the archaic nominative case of the second person plural familiar, "ye".

A handwritten form of thorn that was similar to the letter "y" in appearance with a small "e" written above it as an abbreviation for "the" was common in early Modern English. This can still be seen in reprints of the 1611 edition of the King James Version of the Bible in places such as Romans 15:29, or in the Mayflower Compact. The word was never pronounced with a "y" sound, even when so written.


The Icelandic language is the only living language to retain the letter thorn (in Icelandic; þ, pronounced þoddn, [θ̠ɔtn̥]) in common usage. The letter is the 30th in the Icelandic alphabet and never appears at the end of a word. Its pronunciation has not varied much, but in earlier times þ was sometimes used instead of ð as in the word "verþa" which is verða (meaning "to become") in modern Icelandic. Þ was originally taken from the runic alphabet and is described in the First Grammatical Treatise:

Staf þann er flestir menn kalla þ þann kalla ég af því heldur þe að þá er það atkvæði hans í hverju máli sem eftir lifir nafnsins er úr er tekinn raddarstafur úr nafni hans, sem alla hefi ég samhljóðendur samda í það mark nú sem ég reit snemma í þeirra umræðu. Skal þ standa fyrri í stafrófi en titull þó að ég hafi síðar umræðu um hann því að hann er síðast í fundinn, en af því fyrr um titul að hann var áður í stafrófi og ég lét hann þeim fylgja í umræðu eru honum líkir þarfnast sína jartein. Höfuðstaf þe-sins rita ég hvergi nema í vers upphafi því að hans atkvæði má eigi æxla þótt hann standi eftir raddarstaf í samstöfun.[1]
— First Grammarian, First Grammatical Treatise

  Constructed languages

The thorn is a letter of the alphabet of the Talossan language, in which it may also be seen represented (for convenience) by the digraph TG.

  Computing codes

character Þ þ
Unicode 00DE 00FE
Character entity reference Þ þ
ISO-8859-1, ISO-8859-15
LaTeX \TH \th

  Computer keyboarding

  The þ character is accessible using AltGr+t on a modern US-International keyboard

Thorn can be typed on a normal QWERTY keyboard using various system dependent methods. Thorn may also be accessible by copy-and-pasting from a character map, through changing the keyboard layout or through a compose key.

Typing Þ (thorn) on computers
Computer System Method for Þ Method for þ Notes
Compose key ("Multi Key") Compose Shift+T Shift+H Compose t h Compose is a dead key meaning it is pressed & released rather than held down
GTK+ Ctrl+ Shift+u de Enter Ctrl+ Shift+u fe Enter GTK+ is ISO 14755-conformant for Unicode input
Icelandic keyboard Þ þ Can be typed directly
Macintosh Option+ Shift+T Option+t "U.S. Extended" or "Irish Extended" keyboard layout must be selected
UK keyboard (Linux) Alt Gr+ Shift+P Alt Gr+p
US-International keyboard Alt Gr+ Shift+T Alt Gr+t
Microsoft Windows Alt+(0222) Alt+(0254) Alt must be held down while the rest of the keys are pressed in sequence. Numbers must be typed on the numeric keypad


A thorn with a stroke on the ascender (Ꝥꝥ) was used in English (see the section on usage).

A thorn with a stroke on the descender also exists (Ꝧꝧ). The capital form is at codepoint U+A766, and the minuscule form is at codepoint U+A767.

  See also


  1. ^ First Grammatical Treatise, eText (modernized spelling ed.), NO: Old, http://etext.old.no/gramm/ .
  • Freeborn, Dennis (1992) From Old English to Standard English. London: Macmillan

  External links

Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz


All translations of Thorn_(letter)

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