> It comes about because the Middle English symbol for 'th' > resembled a 'y'. In Middle English, there are two 'th' symbols, one for the > soft sound as in "Thebes' and the other for the hard as in 'the' or 'them'.
Actually these characters can still be seen in action in Icelandic, as well as
the International Phonetic Alphabet. They are »Ð« and »ð« for the soft sound
(»eth«) and »Þ« and »þ« for the hard sound (»thorn«), respectively. That is,
if these (ISO-Latin-1) characters survive the Strathspey list processor and
your mail program (they ought to)! If they don't, the first looks like a kind
of sloppy »D« with a cross-bar and the other vaguely like a »p« with the
vertical stroke extending upwards past the loopy bit. The latter could
conceivably be confused with a »y«, which as Ian aptly told us is the origin
of the »ye«, as in »Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe«.
To return this thread to Strathspey territory, there are more pitfalls like
these lurking in the old Scottish words. Long-time subscribers to this list
may remember the discussion we had in, er, ye olden days (back when the
article count was still in the hundreds as opposed to going on 40,000) about
the »z« in words like »Menzies« which as a matter of fact is not å »z« as we
know it but a sort of retroactive hiccough indicator (I forget the technical
term). It means that you're really supposed to say »Mingiss« instead of
»Men-zees«, although I doubt that the staff of the eponymous stationery chain
will answer the phone that way (at least with »W.H. Smith« you know where you
stand). And then of course there is the »qu« in words like »Balquidder«,
»Urquhart«, or »Colquhoun«.