Man: The Thinker!

Not long ago I wrote a short blog about the etymology of ‘ye olde’ (as in ‘ye olde shoppe’). ‘It was fascinating’, I hear you say. ‘You should write more of those’, I also hear you say. Well, it’s funny you should say that because…I am.

Male Symbol

A lot of people don’t like it when the term ‘man’ or ‘mankind’ is used, because they feel that it excludes women or, at the very least, diminishes their importance and equality (that it’s sexist). So the etymology of the word is (quite mildly a bit) interesting.

In fact the word ‘man’, in Old English, used to be used the same as we use ‘person’ – gender neutral. It’s fairly recent that it has become used exclusively for males – the last 100 years or so. The word ‘wer’ or ‘waepmann’ referred to a male, until the 1300s or so, and ‘wif’ or ‘wifmann’ referred to a female. ‘Wifmann’, obviously, evolved into ‘woman’. ‘Wer’ was simply replaced by ‘man’, which took on a double meaning then – of both a male person and a person in general.

The word ‘man’ actually meant ‘one who has intelligence’, while ‘men’ meant ‘to think’, making it clearer still that ‘man’ referred simply to human beings.

Again, these days people say that to say ‘man’ in reference to all people (even capitalised to make it obvious), is sexist. ‘Mankind’ is just about tolerated, it seems. No matter what it used to mean, people will still complain that it’s sexist because of what it now means. Still, it’s interesting to see where it came from.

Ye Olde English Blogge

For no particular reason, I’m going to talk about the famous ‘Ye Olde…’ whatever. For example, ‘Ye Olde Shoppe’. It’s not particularly in depth, because that would be incredibly boring, so it’s just a brief, mildly interesting overview because I am bored.

Ye Olde Sign Shoppe

The ‘Ye’ part, we all know, is Old English for ‘The’. Not to be confused with ‘ye’ as in ‘you’ (‘hear ye, hear ye’), it actually started off as þ, or thorn. This Old Norse, Old English, Gothic letter still exists as the 30th letter of the Icelandic alphabet. Similarly to some Arabic letters, the thorn wasn’t/isn’t pronounced as one character, but as the phoneme ‘th’.

The thorn became more simplified as Ƿ around the 14th century (almost identical to the wynn, which was used as a ‘w’ sound). The fact that the digraph (two characters to write one sound (or phoneme)) ‘th’ had started being used more commonly than the thorn meant that by the time the printing press was invented, they had no letter thorn. Thus, because of the aforementioned simplification of the thorn, they decided that the letter ‘Y’ looked close enough in blackletter, or Gothic script, and used that instead.

To save space, ‘the’ was printed as Ye (except actually superscripted, which WordPress doesn’t seem to know how to do). Yt was also used, meaning ‘that’.

So, we now see that ‘Ye’ is actually not pronounced ‘ye’, but…’the’. Equally, when we see a sign these days, such as ‘Ye Olde Shoppe’ – which obviously no shop would ever have been called back when ‘ye’ was actually used – both ‘olde’ and ‘shoppe’ are simply bad spellings. Except for the intentionally faux-archaic usage – as the aforementioned sign would be – we don’t pronounce it ‘oldie’ and ‘shoppie’, but rather ‘old’ and ‘shop’.

In short, ‘Ye Olde Shoppe’ would simply be pronounced ‘the old shop’.

Now wasn’t that interesting. I’m not using a question mark there as it would invite response.