Þ (capital Þ, lower-case þ) or Thorn or Þorn is a letter in the Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic alphabets. The letter originated from the rune , called "thorn" in Anglo-Saxon and Thurs ("giant") in Scandinavia.
It has the sound of either a voiceless interdental fricative, like th (such as in the English word "thick") or the voiced form (such as in English "the"), though in Icelandic the usage is restricted to the former, and the voiced form is represented in the letter ð.
It was used in writing Middle English before the invention of the printing press: William Caxton, the first printer in England, brought with him type made in Continental Europe, which lacked thorn, yogh, and eth. He substituted "y" in place of thorn, and in fact "y" is still often substituted for it on gravestones and quaint store signs: "ye olde candies shoppe" should be read as "THe olde…", although it is jocularly or mistakenly pronounced "yee". This was not an arbitrary choice of Caxton's; in some manuscripts of the earlier 1400s (e.g. The Boke of Margery Kempe ) the letters "y" and thorn were identical.
While very rare, it is used infrequently in some modern English word games to replace the "th" with a single letter.
Last updated: 08-29-2005 14:09:04