19 August 2006

Origin of the ampersand

While reading Antipixel's colophon I hit the seldom-used construct of '&c' to mean et cetera:

Occasionally duplicate comments get posted, tags go unclosed, long URLs snake their way into adjacent columns, &c. For the sake of good housekeeping, I may tidy things up, however I'll never edit the actual content of your comment.

I've been aware of this construct for a long time, but never really though about why it works. Thinking about it today, I decided that the ampersand (&) turns into 'and', and 'et' means 'and' in Latin. So from 'et cetera' it went to 'and cetera' to '& cetera' to '&c'. Quaint, indeed.

Something struck me about the ampersand though. If you sorta squinted, you could see it might be a twisted version of the letters in 'et'. Well, it turns out, this recognition is correct. An ampersand is actually a ligature for the Latin word et.

In certain typefaces this origin of the ampersand is more obvious. For example, the next paragraph attempts to show a large ampersand in Monotype Corsiva, but this being the web you may see or hear something different.


Of course, this explains the '&c' construct much better. It's simply the standard contraction 'etc' with the ampersand ligature used for et.