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Ye Olde Shoppe

When I was nine, we moved to Keene, New Hampshire. Right smack dab in the middle of Main Street in Keene in the 1970s was Ye Goodie Shoppe, purveyors of fine hand-made candies. They are, to this day, the only place I've ever known to make Dark Chocolate Cashew Turtles. (They also make really good Milk Chocolate Turtles). Ye Goodie Shop opened in 1931, and is still going strong (though no longer on Main St.).

The use of "ye" and "shoppe" in the name Ye Goodie Shoppe are deliberate attempts to present a brand that is old fashioned, and even quaint. Finding a store that used ye, olde and shoppe is a trifecta of sorts. However charming it is, the usage is not at all historically accurate. And if you really think about it, ye in particular doesn't actually make sense. Ye as written in the customary shop title is actually the older form of "you," not "the." So, technically, "Ye Goodie Shoppe" reads as "You Goody Shop," though we naturally actually parse the ye as "the" and not "you."

Ye in this context is actually a linguistic fossil. In the middle ages, or roughly between 1200 and the first half of the seventeenth century, the word the was often written using a character called a thorn. The thorn is derived from Old English/Anglo-Saxon runes. The thorn character (þ) represents a voiced th- sound, as in the in Old and Middle English, and was written thus: þe.

Cover of Type: The Secret of History of LettersPrinting in England arrived by way of the Continent, which meant that the type was designed by and for people speaking languages that were not English; that meant that the type didn't include a þ character. So the printers substituted an upper-case Y for the þ character. This wasn't a big deal as the upper-case Y looked rather like one ms. variant of a þ. The Y was pronounced as if it were a th-sound, thus, we have, hundreds of years later, Ye being read as the, and even, Yt as that. You can read all about this, and much more, in Simon Loxley's Type: The Secret History Of Print. But remember that Ye, the second-person plural pronoun (from Old English ge is altogether different.

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