Tuesday, August 28

The Lost (Last) Letter

image courtesy of stock.xchng

There are 26 letters in the English alphabet.

If you’re not so sure, consider the alphabet song that children sing:

A, B, C, D, E, F, G,

H, I, J, K, L-M-N-O-P.

Q, R, S,

T, U, V,

W, X, Y, and Z.

Now I know my ABCs.

Next time, won’t you sing with me?

The English alphabet has 21 consonants and 5 vowels.

A total of 26 letters.

Did you know that, hundreds of years ago, there were more than 26 characters?

Little by little, through time, the English alphabet became the version that we know now.

But up until about 2 hundred years ago, there was a 27th member of the alphabet.

What's the lost letter?

The 27th letter of the alphabet was this symbol:


Its name is “ampersand.”


A Brief History

The symbol “&” is actually made up of two letters:

(1) E

(2) t

E + t = “et.”

Et” is a Latin word which means “and.” 

In 1st century A.D., the Romans wrote in cursive. So, if you fuse the two letters together (like what the Romans did), you will get this symbol:


Can you see the two different letters blended into one?

The symbol didn’t and doesn’t only look like this. Here’s how the symbol evolved over time:

image from Wikimedia Commons

You can also find “et” inside the similar expression “etc.

etc” is the abbreviation of “et cetera.” It’s another Latin expression which means:

et = and

cetera = the rest

So, et cetera =  and other things.


This summer camp is a great opportunity. We can learn art, dance, languages etc.

The Last Letter of the Alphabet

&” was included in the Old English alphabet until the mid-1800s, when it eventually fell out of use.

This last image was taken from “The Dixie Primer, For the Little Folks” published in 1863. The entire work is available here

Why Such a Weird Name?

& is called “ampersand.”

If you look once more at the image from the 1863 Dixie Primer, you can see how, as school children recited the whole alphabet, the last part would be like this:

… X, Y, Z, &.

It was definitely confusing and awkward to say:

" … X, Y, Z and."

So people instead said:

" … X, Y, Z and per se and."

Per se is another Latin expression which means “by itself.” 

Because the letter “&” can actually stand alone as a word (like “A” and “I”), people just said:

" … X, Y, Z and per se and."

Over time, the saying would eventually slur together into another word:

" … X, Y, Z ampersand."

And this finally became the real name of the character “&.”

& = ampersand

So, you can say that the name actually originated from a bit of wrong pronunciation.

Hope you learned something!

Keep on learning !

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article <a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ampersand">"Ampersand"</a>, which is released under the <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ph/">Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0</a>.

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