Although I don’t usually talk about medieval times, Monday’s posts are called Medieval Mondays, because I like alliteration. In these posts, I look at the history of the English language.
The ampersand wasn’t always an obscure symbol that not many people can reproduce. It used to be the last letter of the alphabet, and its origins are pretty interesting.
Most people are aware of the Latin word et. You know, from et al, meaning “and the rest of them”, or something? Et is Latin for and.
Having been written and rewritten repeatedly, in Roman cursive, et merged into &, and so the symbol was born. You can see the roots in certain fonts, such as the one used in the post title for this theme, and these:
When the Latin alphabet was introduced in the UK, & joined it. Sometimes it was added onto the end of the alphabet, and eventually it stayed there – it being a prestige form of a simple word, and proving classic roots to our language.
It wasn’t until 1500 years later that the symbol was given a name other than et.
Children always have learned their alphabet by recital, and probably always will. Imagine reciting your alphabet: “W, X, Y, Z, &”.
(That would be said “Double-Yoo, Ex, Wy, Zed, And”)
That doesn’t sound right; it’s almost as if you’ve been cut off halfway through a sentence.
Or, you could say it like this: “W, X, Y, Z, and &” (Double-Yoo, Ex, Wy, Zed, and And). Potentially even worse. “and And” sounds stupid.
So they went with this: “and per se and.”
Per se means “by itself,” so the students were saying, “X, Y, Z, and, by itself, and.”
Say “and per se and” repeatedly. You can imagine how, over time, “and per se and” could become ampersand.
You can see these roots when people write etcetera as &c, meaning etc., with the ampersand maintaining its roots of et.