Online Tuition in the Palaeography of Scottish Documents

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Letter yogh

When reading sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century documents written in Scotland expect to come across a letter of Anglo-Saxon origin which is now defunct, and which, confusingly, looks like the number 3 or the letters z or y. This was the archaic letter yogh.

yogh

The yogh, if formed correctly, looked like the letter z with an extra loop descending below the line, or the number 3 with a flat top-stroke and the lower half below the line. It represented a guttural 'yh' sound. It crops up in words such as Tailzie and an example appears in the word sonze (meaning excuse or delay) below.

sonze

Other words and place names contained the yogh, such as the place Lenzie (which used to be pronounced 'Lin-yay'), and the surname Mackenzie.

It was often used where we would expect to find the letter y, as in the word yeir[is] below.

yeir[is]

The form Zetland (for Shetland) was originally an error, based on a misreading of the yogh. The name was adopted as the official title of Zetland County Council from 1890-1975. However, many Shetlanders and scholars detested it, and the form Zetland is now obsolete. The Concise Scots Dictionary devotes a page to words beginning with the yogh, between the sections devoted to words beginning with the y and the z.

Printers used z or y instead of yogh, and, over the years, pronunciation has changed to match the spelling. An exception is the name Menzies, which in Scotland is pronounced 'Ming-is' (the z like the gh in Genghis Khan).