A Brief History of the Ampersand

From wax tablets to digital screens, the ampersand has been a fundamental part of our written language traversing both cultures and histories. It is a concise way to unify concepts, ideas and the written word. 

The ampersand can be traced back to the first century AD and was originally a ligature of the letters E and T (“et” being Latin for the word and). The first ampersands appeared very much like the separate E and T combined, but as type developed and evolved over the centuries, it eventually became more stylised and less representative of its origins.

You can see the evolution of the ampersand below (1 is like the original Roman ligature, 2 and 3 are from the fourth century, and 4-6 are from the ninth century).

 

A history of the Ampersand


The modern ampersand has remained largely unchanged from those developed in the ninth century.

Whilst the letter has existed for centuries, it took a while for the word to surface when, in 1837, the word ampersand was first added to dictionaries. Created a condensed form of “and, per se and”, which was, historically, what the alphabet ended with when recited in English-speaking schools.

So, here is to you the functional & formidable ampersand, long may you help us to condense our writings!


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