The Ampersand

image of the ampersand symbolvia Web Designer Depot.

I don’t know exactly when it was that I first understood what the ampersand was called, but it was probably later than it should have been.  Not that it matters much, since we all use the ampersand in a very intuitive way.  It’s largely interchangable with ‘and’ that’s how most people use it.  Familiar as fish & chips.

Wikipedia has lots of information about the ampersand.  Apparently it was customary to say ‘and’ at the end of alphabet recital before and after the phrase ‘per se’ (by itself).  Over time, this was condensed and introduced into common usage as ‘ampersand’ in the 19th century. Remarkable it didn’t happen before, given how ubiquitous it is. Maybe it’s because of the slight sense of vagueness that the ampersand connotes… the lack of detail about the connection between the two articles being connected.

But an ampersand is only an ampersand when taken in isolation. The phrase ‘and, per se, and’ is intended to bring out the abstract nature of the ampersand on the alphabet chart in the same way that ‘per se A’ or ‘per se I’ distinguished the phonemes being recited from their everyday use as articles or pronouns.

If the meaning of language is in its use, what is the meaning of the ampersand?


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