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.

What You Didn’t Know About Lewis Carroll

The stories Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass have stood the test of time since their publications in 1865 and 1871, being some of the most recognizable children’s classics in the world.

What’s lesser known about the stories is their author, Lewis Carroll, whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.

Dodgson’s first two names were reversed via a play on Latin to create “Lewis Carroll”.

NPG P7(26),Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson),by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)

Charles Dodgson’s self portrait.

Carroll may be well known for his children’s literature, but during his lifetime he was a mathematician at Christ Church, Oxford who was described as a shy man. For much of his life he suffered from a stammer, and he was also deaf in one ear from a childhood fever. He associated with the Dodo in Alice, ‘Dodo’ being a possible play on ‘Dodgson’.

Accounts refer to Carroll as conservative in all manners (personally, religiously, and politically) despite the outlandish Alice stories.

An illustration for Alice in Wonderland by Arthur Rackham.

An illustration for Alice in Wonderland by Arthur Rackham.

In fact, Carroll reportedly hated the innovative mathematical theories emerging at the time, such as imaginary numbers. Some say that Alice was written to parody these mathematical claims, with multiple numerical absurdities peppered throughout the work, especially when Alice’s height and proportions change drastically.

As well as his interest in mathematics, Carroll invented many things in his time. His poem “Jabberwocky” is comprised of almost all invented words: “’Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe…” (Try putting that into Word and seeing how many red misspelling squiggles you get. Hint: A lot.)

On one fateful day in 1856, Henry Liddell came to Christ Church, Oxford, bringing along his family. Carroll soon became friends with the

1945 editions of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

1945 editions of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

family and started taking their son and three daughters on rowing trips. It was on one such expedition that Carroll told the story of the adventures of a little girl named Alice in a fantastical place. One of the daughters, Alice Liddell, begged him to write the story down.

While Alice Liddell has constantly been associated with literary Alice’s adventures, Carroll has never claimed that story-Alice represented the real-life girl.

One thing led to another and the story was published in 1865 to immediate praise. Fame was a new and intimidating beast for Carroll, and his pen name almost instantly became known around the world. Since then his stories have become the epitome of classic children’s literature.