Thorn (letter)

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Thorn or þorn (Þ, þ), is a letter in the Old English, 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. 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, like th as in the English word thick, or a voiced dental fricative, like th as in the English word the. Modern Icelandic usage excludes the latter, which is instead represented with the letter eth (Ð, ð), though it 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.

Contents

Usage in languages

In English

Old English

The letter thorn was used for writing Old English very early on, like ð; but, unlike ð, it remained in common usage through most of the Middle English period. A thorn with the ascender crossed () was a popular abbreviation for the word that. Even though Old English had the two sounds distinguished in speech in written texts the two letters were often regarded as equivalent to each other.

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