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The 27th 'letter' of the alphabet

The ampersand.
The ampersand.

Schools—and schools of thought—across America would be quite surprised to discover that not too long ago, the English alphabet consisted of 27 characters instead of the widely accepted 26. Furthermore, the exiled symbol isn't a singular hieroglyph representing an equally singular letter. Otherwise known as the ampersand, the (&) representing the entire word 'and' has a history as interesting as its name.

Developed out of a practiced shorthand by Roman scribes around the first century, the ampersand's shape arose out of connecting the letters 'e' and 't' to create the word 'et,' meaning 'and' in Latin. Over time, the English alphabet adopted both this shortand and its meaning practically as directly as the symbol was displayed in its heyday.

The name ampersand is about 1,500 years older than the actual (&) sign. Used in the early 19th century when the ampersand was incorporated into the English alphabet, children would recite the ABCs by ending with ..."X, Y, Z, and per se and." Alluding to the 'and' that stood by itself, the now-familiar mondegreen ampersand was born.

Today, the ampersand is used fundimentally by businesses and corporations such as Barnes & Noble. A less popular but equally intriquing cousin of the ampersand sometimes serves as a shortening of 'etc' by appearing as '&c.' Regardless of its form, the history and function of the former 27th alphabet make the ampersand a novelty fit for the ages.