#17 – &?

The last six articles have taken a look at definite letters that became extinct, within the English alphabet at least, this time, we deviate slightly from the more outright or ‘graphemic’ letters and slowly to the ‘functional’ letters that have become extinct within the English notation system.  By functional, I mean to say either in a grammatical, stylistic, or mathematical function as with the logographic ‘that’ (<Ꝥ ꝥ>) graphemes that perform grammatically.  And ‘and’s perform this function in all three flavours described:

  • mathematical and in the plus grapheme <+>
  • stylistic and in the respective ampersand and et graphemes <& ⁊>
  • grammatical and in the trigraphic and stylistic variants <and & ⁊>.


This appears to be the numeral seven, but when compared in the same font side-by-side they are different.  <⁊> vs. <7>.  The symbol in question is a descending letter that cuts through the baseline of writing systems as <j p y> all do and could even be approximated to looking alike a lowercase numeral <7>.  This is ‘et’, or ‘ond’, and originates from Tironian notes as a shorthand for the word and; either grammatically or mathematically.  This particular shorthand orthography spanned the centuries of the 1st BC to the 16th AD and were only used amongst scholars and scribes.  There is evidence to suggest only a few people knew this particular system.

Words such as <et cetera>, which we all tend to see abbreviated were often abbreviated in two steps; the <cetera> becomes <c.> and the <et >, as is the name of the grapheme, becomes <⁊> and thus <et cetera> became <⁊c.> very often in older medieval manuscripts (<&c.> also became very popular).  Et was around for long enough that even after its decline in use, <⁊c.> was still a common antique form that was only displaced entirely by the emerging <etc.> variant as late as the 19th century.  More interestingly still, <⁊> is used as the general ‘and’ instead of the ampersand in Irish and Scottish varieties of Gaelic and is a very common variety there indeed.


The most common form of ‘and’ is the written trigraphic form, <and>, but <&> is usually a highly preferred stylism in English and Western orthographies over written <and> and the more mathematical <+> (which I’ll go slightly into in a later blog).  The <&> is purely grammatical in its function and would terrorise maths lecturers to see something along the lines of ‘1 & 1 = 2’ as it has certain properties and different meanings within this field, and interestingly, we all generally seem to know this and prefer to keep different ‘ands’ for different functional flavours.

This little letter evolved from Et, but not the Tironian grapheme for it, something else.  Remember ligatures from last week?  Well Classical Latin used a mixture of <⁊> and <et>.  Due to the continuous determination of the scholarly class to waste as little space as possible, et was ligatured and slowly morphed into a more cursive variety due to changing styles.  Eventually, this became <&>.

But where did the name come from?  Where in the alphabet was it?

These two questions are intertwined and in an attempt to answer one of these questions, you end up answering both of them.  <&> appeared at the end of the Latin alphabet and in Later Old English, scholarly influence adjoined it to the end of the Old English alphabet as well.  The 27th letter is its usual, affectionate designation; though it is only an approximation to the number of contemporary alphabetic members as <&> was around for centuries alongside others such these ex-members like: Þ, Ð, Ȝ, Ᵹ, Ƿ, Æ, Œ, and ſ.  When the Latin alphabet was recited it was done so as “x, y, z, and ‘and’ per se and”.  <per se and> meant ‘as in and’ whilst <and and> meant ‘and the and’ grapheme.  As speech processes causing elision (consonant phone deletion), assimilation (phones becoming more similar to an adjacent phone), and syncope (vocalic phone deletion), the phrase became like this:

So that is essentially where the ampersand would appear and how they got their name.  Believe it or not, just like all the other letters and as I have above hinted with <et cetera> being shortened to <⁊c.>, the ampersand grapheme can be written to stylistically include itself as ‘ampers&’, ‘&persand’, or even ‘&pers&’ – though the first was generally how it was spelt.  The ampers& was indeed a logograph, meaning that it was a phonetic unit learned by the speaker rather than representing any phonemic or phonetic information about its pronunciation.  The unit itself could be seen in many orthographies to represent its graphic unit if they were phonetically similar.

<Ꝥ ꝥ>

This is another logograph like the <⁊ &> logographs and was really briefly mentioned earlier on.  This is a simple one, just as ‘and’ is represented either as a trigraphic word, an ampersand, or an et, ‘that’ was also able to represented as a tetragraphic word, or as a logograph.  The grapheme, which is unusual for logographs, follows capitalisation rules as monographs do, and is denoted by a majuscule and minuscule þorn in both cases where the ascender has a bar thereon.  Just as <&> may appear in ‘standing’ as ‘st&ing’ and <⁊> in ‘forget’ as ‘forg⁊’, the that logographs may well have appeared in ‘Thatch/thatch’ as ‘Ꝥch/ꝥch’.  The following example line I keep using of:

“[…] language and thought is a farfetched archaeology that thrusts us far away from what is considered to be bland.”

…would appear like this…

“[…] language & thought is a farfetched archaeology ꝥ thrusts us far away from what is considered to be bl&.”

It is still worth noting there are a lot of ampersands in coding and gaming communities where the symbol is casually used in the same manner that it has been disallowed to be used in within Modern English.  Whilst we may still see the ampers& littered throughout the English Orthographies, we are no longer allowed to use it as a true grapheme in words.  *reader shrugs*  &?

Next, I shall gloss over the main reasons for all this letter executing madness and talk about the last letter in this series, called ‘eng’…

-DP, Linguistics student

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