Today is & day!

Time to reprint the genuine history of the symbol, which doesn’t match the standard etymology.

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I’ve always been bothered by the bizarre-sounding etymology of Ampersand. The symbol itself is no mystery: just a stylized version of et. But the usual etymology for the name doesn’t make a lick of sense. Supposedly some people said and-per-se while others said and. The symbol was meant to provide an alternative between both versions, thus

[either] and-per-se [or] and

got condensed to Ampersand.

This morning I took the time to check it. Turns out I was right about the usual story: nobody ever said and-per-se as an alternative for and. But the real story is even stranger! Lots of people did in fact say and-per-se-and. It was a peculiar recitation method in English schools 200 years ago, meant to provide a kind of bracketing for a single syllable.  If you didn’t hear it at the start,  per-se cued you to hear it at the end.

From a rather roguish set of essays on language written in 1830:

Odd that a classroom method of reciting short words got attached to this one character, but not to other symbols or words.

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Fussy footnote: Just before this item I had written a longer piece about the ‘superstar syndrome’ at Substack and Medium. The WordPress editor somehow got the two posts tangled up. After untangling, this item remained and the longer piece about ‘richification’ was empty. It was mostly a repetition of this, so I decided it wasn’t worth rewriting.

WordPress has such an annoying UI/UX that I sometimes want to revert to Blogspot. The editor “fixes” and jumbles up HTML that doesn’t need fixing, the graphics system “fixes” GIFs that don’t need fixing, and there’s no way to show tags on each post. But the larger corporate tendencies keep me here for now. Blogspot allowed cancellers to delete parts of my blog. So far (9 months) WordPress hasn’t even hinted at the presence of cancellers.

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