The 27th Letter is the ampersand. That’s according to a very interesting e-newsletter from Blurb, my paperback print/distributor. I was so taken with it, I’m recreating it here, using their graphics and words.
The 27th Letter
Ever wonder why we use the ampersand? Used often in Blurb books, it’s one of the most peculiar characters in any typeface—quirky and curvy, it sits above the number 7, and boasts an interesting history! Next time you add one to your book, you’ll know all about its past.
1ST CENTURY CE
Romans scribble the Latin et into a combined symbol, with graffiti examples turning up in the ruins of Pompeii.
11TH-13TH CENTURY CE
Monasteries in Ireland and Scotland keep writing alive in the Middle Ages, but use their own shorthand symbols for “et” or “and”, explaining the variation in styles.
14TH-16TH CENTURY CE
Italian Renaissance artists and writers create the glyph we most recognize and put it into common use for titles and names.
18TH-19TH CENTURY CE
English school children learn it as the 27th letter of the alphabet. To distinguish it as a stand-alone character in recitation, they say “and per se and” which fuses together to become the name.
Jonathan Hoefler establishes a type foundry in New York City, which created ampersands in original typefaces commissioned by retail and media giants—The New York Times, Condé Nast, Rolling Stone, Tiffany & Co., Nike, and Hewlett Packard, to name a few.
Other famous typeface designers take a liking to the ampersand because of its playful, creative opportunities. Our love affair with the glyph continues.
Thank you, Blurb. I enjoyed learning about the ampersand. I might use that info in the next quiz I set!
If you’re looking for a system to print your indie-published books on demand, why not check out blurb.com (or blurb.co.uk, which is who I use.)
10 thoughts on “The 27th Letter Through the Ages”
Interesting! I didn’t know the origin of the word before.
I had no idea “and per se and” was the origin of the word ampersand. Or, for that matter, that it’s actually a Roman shorthand device for “et.” Thanks for passing this little bit of literary trivia on, Jemima. It’s fascinating. 😁
Thanks for this, Jemima! Ampersand FTW! 😉
Never knew this and had forgotten what the doggoned ampersand was!
That was a fun, little history lesson. Thanks for sharing.
This was most informative.
Why does a quick-flick of a white empty box pop up when I hit “like.”?
Is it a white empty box? It may be trying to sort out whether you’re logged in to your wordpress account if that’s the avatar you’re using. It’s being very irritating with my own login at present.
I meant ‘large’ empty box, you told me it was white… sorry… busy week, very tired. It searches for your gravatar to show your ‘like’ avatar.
Interesting! I’d never associated the ampersand with “et” before, but it makes perfect sense.
I wonder if there were other shorthand symbols used in longhand back then to represent whole words? I can’t recall any from my studies, but I didn’t do manuscripts. There are, of course, the thorn, eth, and yogh for the diphthongs (is that the right word? My brain is furry this morning) th and gh.
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