Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Surely, if I were the owner of a shop selling archery goods and wanted to portray my shop as some kind of old-fashioned, high-quality traditional outlet, I might be tempted to call it “Ye Olde Archery Shoppe”. This is a deliberate use of archaic spellings (and the “ye” pronoun) for branding purposes.

My question is about the plausibility of this expression as an actual Old English sentence. Beyond the use of archaic spelling of each word, is there any point in time were this kind of shop name would have been plausibly used?

share|improve this question
I'm pretty sure it's fake; I've read a few articles and posts in forums that say so, but nothing official. The "ye" in particular is a mistranslation. I'm sure Kosmonaut or someone is going to whip up a much better answer with good history though... –  Uticensis Mar 3 '11 at 9:51
What Billare says. While this old form of "the old shop" was probably possible in form, it would seem improbable in content: why would a medieval or early modern Englishman call his shop "old"? Calling your own shop "old" doesn't make sense unless it is done in a sentimental, romantic way, which I believe was hardly current before the 18th century. –  Cerberus Mar 3 '11 at 10:24
@Cerberus: OK, clarification time! I don't mean “plausible” as a shop name, I mean “plausible at all as a sentence”. –  F'x Mar 3 '11 at 10:26
OK then Stan's answer below is probably relevant. You might want to edit this sentence if you don't want to know about using this as a shop name: "Beyond the use of archaic spelling of each word, is there any point in time were this kind of shop name would have been plausably used?" –  Cerberus Mar 3 '11 at 11:42
Though "shoppe" seems to have existed from before 1300, I'm dubious that it had the sense of "a business selling things" that early. –  Colin Fine Mar 3 '11 at 12:00
show 1 more comment

2 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Per the Middle English Dictionary, the answer is 'yes'.

Ye forsaides ... John And Robert schall make a brigge of stane oure ye water of Swalle atte Catrik, be twix ye olde stane brigge and ye Newbrigge of tree, quilke forsaide brygge with ye grace of God sall be mad Sufficiant and workmanly in masoncraft.
(1421) Indent.Catterick in Archaeol.J.7

I'd translate this as

The aforesaid ... John and Robert shall make a bridge of stone over the water of [Swalle] at the Catterick, between the old stone bridge and the new bridge of wood, which aforesaid bridge with the grace of God shall be made sufficient and workmanly in masoncraft.

-so while it's clear that the y in "Ye" is a form of th/thorn, it's also clear that transcribing it as a y is not necessarily a mistake.

Here's another quote that clearly shows that "y" was used as a way to write "th":

It is ordeynede yat alle ye bretheren and sisteren..shul comen to-geder..on ye day of seynt Katerine 1389 Nrf.Gild Ret. 19

(Notice that it uses 'y' for writing that as well as for the.)

The MED entry for shop(pe includes the spelling shoppe as a variant header form. Similarly, the entry for old(e includes the spelling olde as a standard variant, among an astonishing variety of spellings.

Both words have the desired meanings — old "3.(a) Of things: long in existence or in use"; shop "A room or building used as a place of business by a victualer, craftsman, etc."

Thus, although I didn't find the actual phrase "the old shop" (in any spelling) in the quotes, it fully conforms with the usage patterns I can see. I think the spelling "ye olde shoppe" would be unremarkable in a Middle English context.

Edit: I just noticed that you call it the "ye" pronoun. It's not. As the quote above shows, this is a variant spelling of the (as in, the definite article), and should be pronounced as the. (The MED lists it in the variant forms as "(chiefly N & NM) ye", but I have been unable to determine what the heck N and NM are abbreviations of.)

share|improve this answer
Probably "North" and "North Midlands" as areas of England. –  Andrew Leach Aug 1 '13 at 15:22
add comment

All of the component pieces are real (or at least real-ish); the whole may not be. The "Ye", in particular, is an actually corrupt interpretation of a manuscript Þe (that's a thorn, a letter that is pronounced the same as th in modern English, followed by the letter e), which was a common abbreviation of the word the in the Middle English period, when olde and shoppe would have been at least common variants if not quite standard. (There was no real standard at the time -- it would not have been uncommon to see the same word spelled several different ways in the same piece of writing.)

In some script styles, the thorn looks like a backwards-facing lower-case y. The "Ye", then, is a close approximation in modern English script of Þe, but it's really a misreading of the older letterforms.

share|improve this answer
Are you sure it was actually a corrupt interpretation? I read somewhere that it was done on purpose, as a substitute, by printers who used continental printing blocks (or letter molds?) lacking the thorn. And if it is a currupt interpretation, why exactly do you say that "the whole might not be" real? You think it would never have appeared this way in print? (I don't know much about Middle English myself so I have no idea.) (It seems FX_ wanted to know about its appearance in a sentence, not as a shop name.) –  Cerberus Mar 3 '11 at 11:39
There's a side question here regarding "old." Precisely as noted, prior to the introduction of formal orthographies, the word could have been rendered as "old," "olde," or some other variant. But why would a store advertise itself as being aged? In Japan in 1995 I remember seeing stores bill themselves as being extant "since 1993," so longevity (sic) has long been an imprimatur of quality. –  The Raven Mar 3 '11 at 12:13
Whether the use of the y is a deliberate concession to convenience by printers or a simple misreading by people unaccustomed to the thorn, it's still a corruption of the original form. –  bye Mar 4 '11 at 3:09
The transition from Þe to ye is described in Wikipedia's thorn article en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorn_%28letter%29 . The transition took several centuries, with an intermediate step where the thorn Þ looked like the already obsolete wynn (ƿ), before being undistinguishable from a y. By the way, Wikipedia also has a 'Ye olde' article en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ye_Olde which could qualify as an answer to this question. –  Frédéric Grosshans Mar 30 '11 at 17:57
add comment

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.