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Ye Olde Blogge Poste

The following inscription appears on the tomb of English Puritan John Ward (1545–1602):

John Ward, after he with great evidence and power of ye Spirite, and with much fruit, preached ye Gospel at Haverill and Bury in Suff. 25 years, was heere gathered to his fathers. Susan, his widdowe, married Rogers, that worthy Pastor of Wethersfielde. He left 3 sonnes, Samuel, Nathaniel, John, Preachers, who for them and theirs, wish no greater blessing than that they may continue in beleeving and preaching the same Gospel till ye coming of Christ. Come, Lord Jesus, come quicklye.

—in J. C. Ryle, Light from Old Times (Banner of Truth, 2015), 207.


I love seeing a father express such godly wishes as those for his sons, and that would be a great topic for this post, but it is not. No, this wonderful grave inscription brings out my inner grammar maven [pause here to allow a collective groan from my blessed offspring].

You have, no doubt, noticed the peculiar spelling of several words in this Early Modern English text. Look especially at the use of ye, as in “ye Spirite,” “ye Gospel,” etc. You have likely seen this form used anachronistically in titles such as Ye Olde ___ Shoppe, a fake Early-English affectation intended to imbue an establishment with an aura of Merry Old England—Robin Hood, Ivanhoe, and all that. No actual medieval business was ever called “Ye Olde” anything, but here we see the pronoun ye used similarly on a genuine 415-year-old tombstone. What’s up with that (as many a Knight of the Round Table was wont to say)?

The answer is in alphabets and typography, two more topics we all find fascinating, I’m sure. In short, it is not meant to be the pronoun ye, but the definite article the. The letter y in ye is not properly a y, but a þ (called “thorn”), one of two letters used in Old and Middle English, Old Norse, and modern Icelandic to represent the th sound. Consequently, the word the was spelled þe. Since þ, in medieval script, looks a lot like the letter y, it is not surprising that later readers, including J. C. Ryle, have reproduced it accordingly.

imageAlso curious is the fact that the word, in legitimate use, is nearly always seen abbreviated as on the tombstone pictured above (click to see it full size)—the e is printed as a superscript directly above the þ. Why that was considered an abbreviation, I have no idea.

Posted 2017·05·24 by David Kjos
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