Celebrate the former 27th letter of the alphabet
Punctuation enthusiasts, rejoice! September 8 is National Ampersand Day.
The unique “&” character, situated above the 7 on the keyboard, is a favorite of grammar lovers, typographers, and graphic designers alike. The curlicue symbol serves both form and function in the written language. Students picked up the shorthand sign to save time taking notes by hand during lectures, while typographers can show off their creative flair with different variations of the ampersand in their designs. The “&” is usually seen formally in the names of companies or in the titles of books, movies, and more. The ampersand is used more frequently in informal situations in place of the conjunction “and,” such as in handwritten notes or, nowadays, to save a few characters when composing a tweet. The date of the national holiday, September 8, was chosen because it looked most like the “&.” Who doesn’t love using this fun, quirky, aesthetically pleasing character?
But have you ever thought about the history behind the ampersand? Its development throughout history is an interesting reflection of the evolution of language and the written word.
The creation of the symbol actually predates the creation of the name. The first ampersand sign dates back to 79 AD in the ancient town of Pompeii. The “&” has been found etched into some of the ruins that survived the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The symbol developed from the Latin word “et,” which translates to “and.” Scribes wrote so quickly that the letters blended together, thus giving us “&.”
Did you know that the ampersand was once the 27th letter of the alphabet? “&” made its way into the alphabet in the late 18th century, bringing up the rear after “Z.” School children reciting their ABCs would sing, “…X, Y, Z, and, per se, and.” “Per se,” meaning “by itself,” was used to signify the single “&” symbol (and “by itself is” and). Over time, the singsongy chants of school children jumbled “and, per se, and” together, giving rise to the word “ampersand.” That’s called a mondegreen, when a word or phrase is created after mishearing something said or sung.
There are plenty of ways to celebrate the beloved ampersand today. Use “&” instead of “and” in e-mails or text messages. Write names that have an “and” in them with the ampersand sign: &rew (Andrew), &rea (Andrea), &y (Andy). Have fun & enjoy a day devoted to everyone’s favorite punctuation mark.
Love grammar? Check out more articles like "The Difference Between Y’all and Ya’ll" or “How to Make Your Last Name Plural.” Want to test your skills? See if you can spot all 13 mistakes in this letter.