The Origin of the Ampersand


It’s the character that was taken out of the alphabet – but is still used every day.

The ampersand is mostly used stylistically today; it’s used as a symbol for “and”, but only to save room or for aesthetic reasons.

But the ampersand used to be much more common. Where did this strange symbol originate?

It all traces back to the 1st century A.D. and Roman cursive, where E and T were sometimes formed together as a single symbol. This ligature continued to be used through the years and became more and more stylized.

The modern ampersand that we’re so used to comes from this “et” ligature.

Medieval script

The “et” ligature in Medieval script.

Ever since printing was invented, the ampersand has been used extensively. At first it was simply called “and” or “et” (“Et” is the Latin word for “and”). The symbol had also become part of the Latin alphabet.

It even appeared at the end of the English alphabet as late as the 19th century. This is where it got its name: when children recited the alphabet, the ampersand came right after Z, recited as “and per se and” meaning “and in and of itself”.

This morphed into the abbreviation “ampersand”, which stuck around even after it was dropped from the alphabet.

With the popularity of typography these days, ampersands can be found in signs and other decor all over the place. And now you know where they came from.


The evolution of the ampersand.

The evolution of the ampersand.

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