Here’s a fun fact for tutors to pass to their students about one of the characters used daily by our text happy kids.
Johnson & Johnson, Barnes & Noble, Dolce & Gabbana: the ampersand today is used primarily in business names, but that small character was once the 27th ‘letter’ of the alphabet. But why was and part of the alphabet and where did it come from? The origin of its name is almost as bizarre as the name itself.
The shape of the character (&) predates the word ampersand by more than 1,500 years. In the first century, Roman scribes wrote in cursive, so when they wrote the Latin word et which means “and” they linked the e and t. Over time the combined letters came to signify the word “and” in English as well. Certain versions of the ampersand, like that in the font Fairfield Light, clearly reveal the origin of the shape.
The word “ampersand” came many years later when “&” was actually part of the English alphabet. In the early 1800s, school children reciting their ABCs concluded the alphabet with the &. However, it would have been very confusing to say “X, Y, Z, and.”
So to finish of the ABC’s tidily the students said, “and per se and.” “Per se” means “by itself,” so the students were essentially saying, “X, Y, Z, and by itself and.” Over time, “and per se and” was slurred together into the word we use today: ampersand. When a word comes about from a mistaken pronunciation, it’s called a mondegreen.
The ampersand may sometimes be found used in an unusual configuration where it appears as “&c” and means etc. The ampersand does double work as the e and t.
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