One of the more difficult task for a genealogist is that of reading and deciphering handwriting in old documents. Besides the fact that some handwriting is almost impossible to read, there were letters and letter forms used in “the olden days” that are no longer commonly used, if used at all.Coupled with that problem is the lack of standardized spelling until close to the 20th century.
One letter or term that is often seen in old handwriting and continues today is the word or term “ye” as in “Ye Olde Tavern.” Quite often today this “ye” is used when an ambiance of colonial times is desired. Most pronounce the word as “yee.”But this pronunciation is totally in error. It seems hard to fathom that the correct pronunciation is simple “the” — just as the word “the” is pronounced. Of course the first question is, “How on earth did they get ‘the’ out of ‘ye’?!?” Perhaps a bit of the history of the term will explain.
The letter form that became the “Y” was called a “thorn” and was probably derived from a rune, part of a runic alphabet used by Northern European or Germanic peoples until about the 1200s. It represented what is now our “th.” But when the printing press came into use, there was no sign or letter for the thorn, which resembles a lower-case “p” with the loop moved down to the middle of the vertical line.The letter closest in appearance to the thorn was the “y,” which was often substituted for the thorn in printed material. Thus the “y” when used in this context was pronounced “th,” and when the letter e was added to it, the word became “the” in pronunciation.
Few people today even realize that the word is actually pronounced “the.”