September 8 is National Ampersand Day. The humble ampersand is an often overlooked fragment of the English language, even though its appearance actually derives from the Latin word “Et” meaning “and.” It’s clear if you think of the shape as a big, flowing capital “E” merged with a little “t.”
In fact, the name for this handy curlicue – which was originally called the “per se and,” meaning “and itself” – is a testimony to the importance it once held in English literacy. We think of it as informal today, but it was once a formal part of the alphabet. (Thomas Jefferson used it in the Declaration of Independence, after all.) Back in Noah Webster’s day, school children reciting the ABCs would finish with “W,X,Y,Z, and per se and.” Shortening and slurring through rote performance made “and per se and” into “ampersand,” a name that has stuck with us ever since.
It may have fallen out of the alphabet, but the world of words still honors the ampersand – not just in book titles, but in trade names like publisher Simon & Schuster or bookseller Barnes & Noble.
This little figure finds its way into such well known book titles as Lynn Truss’s witty grammar guide Eats, Shoots & Leaves and Vincent Donovan’s nostalgic novel Marty & Me. When David Gilbert’s novel & Sons was released in 2013, it made a bit of news because the ampersand in the title made it famously hard to search for online.
There are also plenty of popular young adult novels sporting an ampersand in the title:
- Blink & Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones
- The Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor
- Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
- Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June by Robin Benway
- Fire & Flood by Victoria Scott
- Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin
- House of Ivy & Sorrow by Natalie Whipple
- Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver
- Marley & Me by John Grogan
- Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry
- The Secrets of Blueberries, Brothers, Moose & Me by Sara Nickerson
- Sharks & Boys by Kristen Tracy
So celebrate the ampersand today. Use it proudly & prominently!
Dennis Quinn is a 2016 Mass Literacy Champion and is the Director of Mentoring Programs at Reader to Reader in Amherst, Massachusetts.