My understanding is that, until fairly recently, recitation of the English alphabet was often suffixed by saying "and per se and", roughly translating to "and, by itself, '&'". This suggests that the ampersand was almost sort-of a letter in the English alphabet -- this seems strange to me, because that would make it the only letter which represents an entire word (Latin 'et', meaning 'and') rather than a phonetic sound.

Was the ampersand considered a full citizen of the original Latin alphabet, and, if so, did it evolve into some vestigial afterthought in the modern English language? If so, were there originally other Latin letters that represented full words rather than phonetic sounds?

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    Scribal abbreviations and ligaturization seem to be a natural phenomenon in handwritten script, aimed to optimize effort and materials used to convey a message. Ampersand is not the only one, of course. See, for example, linguistics.stackexchange.com/q/2742/1009 – bytebuster Sep 29 '14 at 1:53

No, the ampersand was not a letter but rather developed from a ligature between e and t in the Latin word et (and - as in etc). It has its origins in 1st century BC and seems to have been in common use since 1st century AD. You can read more about its history on the excellent blog (or book) Shady Characters: http://www.shadycharacters.co.uk/2011/06/the-ampersand-part-1-of-2.

  • thank you, that was a fascinating read. this leads me to be further curious about how the ampersand came to be recited as part of the english alphabet as if it were a letter. – Woodrow Barlow Sep 29 '14 at 16:34
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    The Wikipedia article on the ampersand has the answer. – Dominik Lukes Sep 29 '14 at 19:03

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