Pre Computer Thorns


Someone asked a group of Old English specialists how they handled the character thorn (þ) and eth (ð) in the days before Unicode (and before computers).

The answers included:

  • Switch Selectric ball
  • Changed typewriter key
  • Overtype "p" and "b" together
  • Overtype o, then x to the upper right for edh
  • Handwrote into blank in typed text
  • European typewriter
  • modified Epson dot matrix

All of this brings me back the days whem my mother said not to worry if the typewriter had no "1" key - you just used lowercase L instead. Boy was I excited by my first Mac dot matrix printer!

It reminds me that a lot of these accented characters developed in the manuscript era. Not only wasn't Unicode not an issue, but neither was typesetting. Writing these isn't nearly as inconvenient as typing them.

BTW - Just for kicks, I thought would recreate the overstruck p+b = þ and o+x = ð in an image file in multiple fonts. Verdana is a surprisingly flexible font for this.

Fake Thorn and Fake Eth in Courier, Verdana, Arial Rounded, Palatino, Optima  and Times New Roman

About The Blog

I am a Penn State technology specialist with a degree in linguistics and have maintained the Penn State Computing with Accents page since 2000.

See Elizabeth Pyatt's Homepage ( for a profile.


The standard commenting utility has been disabled due to hungry spam. If you have a comment, please feel free to drop me a line at (

Powered by Movable Type Pro

Recent Comments