The symbol existed long before the name. It was a ligature of the Latin word “et”, meaning “and”. This is where the Et looking ampersands come from. It’s also why you’ll sometimes see etc. written as &c.
The name come from the 19th century when “&” was often included as the 27th letter of the alphabet. When children recited the alphabet, it was awkward to finish with “X, Y, Z, and”.
So the ending of the alphabet recitation was changed to ‘X, Y, Z, and per se and”, meaning “and, by itself, and” or that the “&” was a word on its own.
Over time, “and per se and” was slurred together to form the mondegreen “ampersand”.
It’s uncertain precisely when or why the ampersand was dropped from the alphabet, but it may very likely have been related to the modern alphabet song. You know, the one set to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” It was copyrighted in 1835, and, as we all know, omitted the ampersand from the recitation. It was around this time that including the ampersand in the alphabet fell out of favor.
While I was researching the ampersand, I came across some interesting information about “ye olde”. In middle English, there existed a “letter” known as thorn. It looked kind of like a “p”. But over the years, it evolved to become almost indistinguishable from “y”. This meant that “ye” was written as an abbreviation of “the”. It stuck, and so, to this day, we have “ye olde” instead of “the olde”. English has simply forgotten that you’re supposed to pronounce the “ye” as “the”. But that isn’t as much fun, is it?
Are you a fan of the ampersand, or do you despise it? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.