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  • Writer's pictureEmily Young

A Symbol For Your Thoughts

Did you know there used to be a 27th letter in the alphabet? It’s true, there was. And do you know what that last little placeholder might have been? It was none other than “&”.

This logogram, as some may not know, is called an ‘ampersand’ and it was developed along with the rest of the language. But the word “ampersand” wasn’t added to dictionaries until 1837. The word was created as a slurred form of “and, per se and”, which was what the alphabet ended with when recited in English-speaking schools. You can’t very well end something with the word “and”. It would become far too confusing. So they began throwing “per se” in front of it. The song made a little more sense when it went “X, Y, Z, and per se, AND”. But still, to avoid any confusion, it was decided to drop the & and finish with Z.

But 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.

Today, linguaphiles* are having these

symbols tattooed on them and designers use them to enhance a design without having to use an actual image. Things have changed a bit.

More people are becoming comfortable using it in everyday situations, as it commonly replaces “and” in social media and text messages. Ampersands are also commonly used in programming, particularly in MySQL, C and C++, XML, SGML, and BASIC. Not to mention them being used in high-end design firms like Sagmeister & Walsch, or hip coffee shops like FoxCroft & Ginger.

Through popular etymology, it has been falsely claimed that André-Marie Ampère used the symbol in his widely read publications and that people began calling the new shape “Ampère’s and”

Sure, I may have named my dog Ampersand, but the history of that word might just be more interesting than her weird butt dance.

*Me. I have it tattooed on me (see below). But it's mainly because of my dog.

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