You say it, you use it, but what is it?
It’s a symbol . . . It’s a thingy that means “and” . . . It’s an ampersand!
We have all seen them, but what are they? Where did they come from? According to Wikipedia, an ampersand or “&” is “a logogram representing the conjunction ‘and.’” It is a graphic combination of letters and is Latin for “and”, “et”. In Old Roman cursive, it became common to combine e’s and t’s, which produced something like this: . As for the etymology of the word, ampersand is a conflation of the phrase “and per se and,” because long ago, when reciting the alphabet, letters like “A”, “I” and “O” that could be used by themselves as words were preceded by the Latin expression per se, meaning “by itself.” Wew! The symbol was even occasionally placed at the end of the alphabet as the 27th letter, pronounced and.
Remember the first grade days when you would recite the alphabet with your class? Imagine saying “X, Y, Z and per se and.” As time went on and slang took over average speakers’ use of esoteric vocabulary, the last phrase was slurred into “ampersand.”
Today, we use the ampersand in the formal names of businesses, when addressing a couple in writing (Mr. & Mrs. Jones), in film titles and in collaboration works. The “&” indicates a closer collaboration than and. If only we knew during our childhood group projects that simply putting an ampersand between our names may have given the teacher more affirmation as to how well each of us did on our part of a project.
Now we know where the symbol came from, what it does and why we use it. Sometimes it’s the little things that are the greatest things.