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What Character Was Removed from the Alphabet?

ampersand

Johnson & Johnson, Barnes & Noble, Dolce & Gabbana: the ampersand today is used primarily in business names, but that small character was once the 27th part of the alphabet. Where did it come from though? 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 Caslon, 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 &. It would have been confusing to say “X, Y, Z, and.” Rather, 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. Find out why here.

(The ampersand is also used in an unusual configuration where it appears as “&c” and means etc. The ampersand does double work as the e and t.)

The ampersand isn’t the only former member of the alphabet. Learn what led to the extinction of the thorn and the wynn.

Are there other symbols or letters you would like to learn about? The most popular choice below will be our focus in the near future.

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31 Utah Medical Products Inc. Kevin L Cornwell (801) 566-1200 P (CEO) (801) 566-2062 F

32 Equity Oil Co. Paul M. Dougan (801) 521-3515 P (CEO) (801) 521-3534 F

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763 Comments

  1. Lori -  April 1, 2014 - 5:42 am

    History of Language – &

    Reply
  2. Quicksilver -  March 19, 2014 - 3:25 am

    “Over time, ‘and per se and’ was slurred together”. These changes were not the result of perennial drunkenness or laziness. They happened because of a natural language process called sandhi, which affects speech sounds at word boundaries.

    Reply
  3. Someone Over The Rainbow -  March 17, 2014 - 5:43 pm

    #Love&Peace

    Reply
  4. CeriCat -  March 17, 2014 - 2:20 pm

    And then we have the thorn (th sound) which fell out of usage with modern printing and the typefaces had no thorn it was replaced frequently with the y which is where all Ye olde time shoppes came in.

    Reply
  5. CAS -  March 17, 2014 - 8:54 am

    I bet in the new world of texting and oft-abbreviated online communications that the “&” could very well come back into its own.

    Reply
  6. Chad C. -  March 15, 2014 - 8:39 am

    In regard to the percent sign (‘%’), percent means the amount has been divided by 100. The two “bubbles” around the slash likely represent the divisor (100). 60% = 60 / 100

    Reply
  7. Writerbyter -  March 11, 2014 - 3:03 pm

    I always thought the character of an Ampersand ‘&’ came about as a quick writing of ‘et’–the Latin for ‘and’ and that later printmakers and typographers created the ‘&’ character for printing presses and later–typewriters. >0<

    Reply
  8. hectorjay -  March 11, 2014 - 2:48 pm

    The origin of the dollar sign comes from the overlaying of the letters U & S as in “United States” currency. eventually the bottom rocker was omitted leaving the dollar sign as an “S” with two vertical lines superimposed. My dollar sign Key only shows one vertical line instead of two, still suggesting the Dollar Sign.

    Reply
  9. Jones -  March 11, 2014 - 2:48 pm

    It’s not unlikely that the percent symbol came from or is related to the fractional notation. x/y is a relationship between two numbers – “x is to y”. Look at the division symbol •/• (the slash is generally more horizontal to completely horizontal) and percent symbol %. The basic difference is whether the circle is empty or filled.

    Perhaps the people who came up with the symbols used them to show whether or not the math is to BE done (•/•) or is ALREADY done (%). After all when you do the math on 3/5 you end up with 60%.

    Reply
  10. wolf tamer and iron miner -  March 6, 2014 - 4:04 am

    I agree with RS. Where did the % sign come from? It looks like a fraction…

    Reply
  11. RS -  March 4, 2014 - 2:28 pm

    Where did % come from? I guess $ came from S (for shilling) and €.

    Reply
  12. RS -  March 4, 2014 - 2:26 pm

    Where did % come from?

    Reply
  13. LEE SIN -  March 4, 2014 - 5:46 am

    e + t =&
    lol

    Reply
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