Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Adventures of Ampersand

          Behold the humble ampersand.
          If it were still the last letter of our alphabet, as it once was, it would be my favorite letter, if only because of its lovely loops and swirls. But alas, it got whacked.
          The ampersand came from Roman scribes who wrote in cursive, and linked the e and the t when they were writing “et” (and).  English kids would recite the alphabet, and rather than say, “X, Y, Z, and” which makes you want to ask, “And what?” they would say “and per se,” which means “and by itself.”
           Naturally, it didn’t take long for “and per se” to get mumbled and slurred into “ampersand,” and now that’s the name for this symbol.  How cool that one letter stood for a whole word, right?  But it’s no longer in our alphabet, I am sad to report.  And it’s not the only casualty of Old English giving way to modern times.
          This is a letter called a “thorn,” for the th sound.  It got replaced by Y.  Don’t ask Y.  But this is why Ye Olde Candy Shoppe is spelled like that—they’re really saying the old candy shop.  And we don’t know our history, so we pronounced it Ye, as if we’re saying You Old Candy Shop.
          Another letter went by the wayside, as well: The Wynn.  It was replaced by “uu” which evolved into our w. It looked like this:
          If you think both of them look like “P” in a stylish font, I agree.  Seriously, how many variations on P did we need?  So maybe it’s just as well the thorn and the wynn went away.  But the ampersand?  I truly miss it.
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