Thursday, October 7, 2010

Out with the old, in with the old.

A long-lost favorite haunt in Manhattan was a diner just south of Columbus Circle, whose name was an odd combination of past, present, and future: The Cosmic Coffee Shoppe.

You picture thatched tea-rooms on ye olde Planet Mars, with mylar cozies, freeze-dried tang-flavored scones, and a fat marmalade cat in a space helmet.

Reminded of this retro-futurism because, across the street from my new abode, is the hideously named Rye ExecuPlaza.*

Only it doesn't say "rye execuplaza" on the untrendy all-lower-case sign. (In the Avant Garde typeface? In the twenty-first century? Give me a break, you might as well put it in blackletter. Or entirely in upper case Old English.)

The r in "rye" is missing.

So imagine a medieval wandering knight, seeking damsels to slay and dragons to woo, trotting up to a bleak castle and demanding to know of the castellan if he's seen a flock of grails go by.

"Alack, good Sir Knighte," sighs the head guard, after the required banter about swallows carrying coconuts. "Thou hast just missed his nibbes. But hist, dogge! Thee might find him at his counting-house. Down yon lane, in Ye Execuplaza.**"

*Or Execuplaza or Execu-plaza or execuplaza, depending on where it's listed. Honestly, the tin-eared property development Philistines who came up with this monstrosity -- and no doubt thought it justified their fees -- might at least be consistent in the way they're effing up the English language. How about bringing a poet to one of those meetings?

**Mentioning only that the "ye" as in "Ye Olde iPadde Shoppe" should be pronounced "the," and not like the old form of "you," which is a different word. In the "Ye Olde . . ." case, the Y is not our modern letter y, but a representation of a symbol called a "thorn," which made the "th" sound in Old and Middle English. It had largely died out by the time of Caxton, so when the early printers needed to include it, they used a y instead. So it's their fault, the lazy bastards.
The "curse" on Shakespeare's tomb, which he didn't write and which was pretty standard practice for the time, so that well-off ex-parishioners could hold on to their prime spots inside the church and not have their remains dug up by venal vicars and dumped in the charnel house as soon as another cash-paying stiff came along demanding altar-front property to decompose in. It includes several Y's representing the "th" sound. (That Y with a little T over it stands for Yat, meaning "that," pronounced "that.") For more about this inscription, see Alan Beechey's novel This Private Plot. Oh, wait, I forgot to finish it.


  1. I had never heard of this *ye-the* stuff. Thanks for the lesson, though my mental voice will forever say *ye* and not *the*, I fear.

  2. My nickname among my kids is "The Living Lesson," as I may have mentioned before. I think it's kidspeak for "appalling old bore."