Kids in the early 18th century used to recite 27 letters of the alphabet…& here’s why.

Wait, what? It’s true; there used to be 27 letters in the alphabet and kids back then reciting their ABCs would finish the alphabet with ‘And’ as the 27th letter. But it was confusing to say, “X, Y, Z, And.” Instead, students would chant, “And, per se, and.” “Per se” means by itself, so the students were essentially saying, “X, Y, Z, and by itself And.” Over time, “And per se and” was shortened (some say slurred) into the word we know and use today: Ampersand.

But what about the ‘&’ symbol you say? Well, it comes from the Latin word ‘Et’ and predates the actual word Ampersand by more than 1500 years. ‘Et’ in Latin means ‘and’ and Roman scribes of the day would write in elaborate cursive and often the ‘E’, and the ‘t' were written together as a ligature. Today the ampersand has evolved in modern alphabets into a dreadful, unrecognised symbol. However, in classic typefaces, particularly the italic versions (see example below), the design of the ampersand reflects its Latin origins.  

  Various italic examples of the ampersand reflecting the ligature of the letters ‘Et’ — the Latin word for ‘and’.

Various italic examples of the ampersand reflecting the ligature of the letters ‘Et’ — the Latin word for ‘and’.

 Even in it's lower case form, the combination of the 'e' and 't' is evident.

Even in it's lower case form, the combination of the 'e' and 't' is evident.

Weirdo fact:

German typographer, Jan Tschichold, went a little crazy over the Ampersand as seen culminating in his 1953 booklet The ampersand: its origin and development. He pieced together hundreds of examples of the symbol throughout history, recording its development from a piece of ancient Latin graffiti to the familiar ‘&’ symbol used at the time.


This is the first in a series of blogs on letterforms, typography and writing glossary.


About the author
Steve Williss at WriteMind was a typographer and art director long before he turned his hand to writing for a living. He still takes an active interest in letterforms and typography, particularly typographic design.