I’m a nerd. In fact such a big nerd that I tend to look up word origins in my spare time because I’m fascinated by our language. The odder the origin, the better. I’ve got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications.
In any case, I thought I’d share some of this random crap with you in the form of the new acronym-ific series. I give you – Word Origins from Left Field – that’s right, the WOLF. Er… ignore the fact that the “from” doesn’t fit.
Anybody who plays Wheel of Fortune knows that this little character – & – is called an “ampersand.” But why? What the hell does that mean? Me being me, I used to think it was actually called an “and for stand” meaning, “it stands for and.” But, uh, no, that’s too easy, and much too sensible to be the real answer.
It appears that back in the day when few people could write, and monks were doing most of the transcribing, they got really, really tired of writing “and” all the time, so they came up with a little symbol that was the equivalent of the letters from the Latin “and”(et) mashed together, which explains why it looks the way it does, but not why it would be called an ampersand.
|Evolution of the ampersand, jpeg from
That bit comes from the education of children in the Middle Ages, when they were taught their alphabet and the distinction between the letter “a” and the word “a,” as in A-B-C as opposed to “A boy and a dog.” The Latin term per se meaning “by itself,” when the teacher wanted the children to understand the difference between “A” the letter and “A” the word, they said “a-per-se-a,” meaning, “A (the letter) by itself means a (the word).” The pronoun “I” and the letter “i” were distinguished from each other in the same manner.
Subsequently, the children were taught the symbol & to mean “and” by saying “and-per-se-and,” and we went ahead and bastardized that a little bit and got the word “ampersand.”