Why an & is called an ampersand

Ampersand symbol in different fontsAs anyone who knows me will tell you (and as my Twitter bio admits) I’m a fan of etymology and, well, the English Language in general. It’s what I studied at university, and it’s basically what I read about when I’m not writing about football.

Previously on this blog I’ve written about the meaning of my surname and the history of certain words and phrases. These articles punctuate what is, frankly, a Grimsby Town blog, but I’m hoping some people out there appreciate that moods can take you many different places and the compulsion to write occurs at curious times.

Yesterday was about simulation in football. Today’s about the ampersand. It’s the kind of clunky topical transition that you’d enjoy on The One Show.

I love looking at Old English. I won’t pretend I can read it – but I’d have a stab at pronouncing the words and reading them aloud. Within the ancient language are letters we no longer use, and yesterday a colleague of mine pointed me in the direction of an article about these.

Well, not to sound too arrogant or anything, but I already knew all there was to know about eth, wynn, thorn, ash and yogh.

But I continued reading anyway, and then came across something genuinely interesting and new. I learnt why the ampersand is called the ampersand. I’ll quote from Michael Rosen’s blog on the HuffPost (he’s Professor of Children’s Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London, so that means he knows his stuff):

In the olden times, children used to recite the alphabet and said “and per se ‘and’” on the end to indicate that they were reciting the alphabet and the sign ‘&’. The name for this is ‘ampersand’ – a squashed up pronunciation of “and per se ‘and’”, with ‘per se’ meaning ‘on its own’ or ‘for self’.

Of course, some of you might have already known that. I’ve since Googled ‘ampersand’ and the etymology is explained on Wikipedia, above the fold, so now I feel like a fool.

Which leads me, sort of, onto the word ‘tomfoolery’, which comes from Tom Fool – a name that was invented years ago for a person who feigned madness to attract sympathy, especially when begging. So someone pretending to be mad, as part of a silly game, is said to be dabbling in tomfoolery.

You can have that one for free.


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