The (Old) 27th Letter of the English Alphabet

It’s true. Our modern, English alphabet, used to have 27 letters!

Do you know what the 27th letter was?

et.

“Et” was the 27th letter of the alphabet. And actually, you can still find it on your keyboard!

“&”

Now most people call this character an “ampersand” or simply “and”, but this character was actually considered a letter!

History of et

Et is the Latin word for and. It’s usage can be traced back to the first century! This is where the ampersand was born. The “&” symbol was created as a ligature (combination of two letters) of the letters “e” and “t” or “et”. It was considered a letter of the alphabet all the way up until the early 17th century.

two depictions of the evolution of the ampersand

It even had its own place at the end of the alphabet. The phrase “and, per se, and” was added after the letter z. This partially English/partially Latin phrase means “and, by itself, and.” However, this poor phrase soon became subject to “rebracketing”.

Rebracketing

Rebracketing occurs when a phrase is slurred together to form a new word. A prime example of this is the English word “Alligator”. Originally, we got this word from the spanish word(s): el lagarto {meaning “the lizard”}.

We eventually slurred this word so much…

el legarto … ellagarto … allagarto … alligarto … alligator …

that we got our word, Alligator.

This progression also occurred and gave us the particle ‘an’. ‘An’ is the form of ‘a’ used before a word beginning in a vowel. However, it wasn’t always a correct particle. It is commonly believed that ‘aprons’ were once called ‘naprons’ as they were held using a string that draped over one’s nape (back of the neck). Over time, the phrase ‘a napron’ was rebracketed as ‘an apron’ and this particle came into being.

In &’s case, the phrase and, per se, and, was gradually reduced to ‘andperseand’, ‘an’pers’and’ and finally ‘ampersand’.

Now-a-days

Now-a-days, the ampersand is a character used for aesthetic in various logos and names. Unfortunately, it no longer holds it position as the 27th letter of the English alphabet.

Fun fact: “&c” used to be the way to write “etc” or “et cetera” which means ‘and the rest’.

Bibliography:

http://blog.dictionary.com/ampersand/

http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2010/01/the-history-of-the-ampersand-and-showcase/

a soon to be college freshman from the South who enjoys conlangs, linguistics, linguistic history/interaction and much more. thanks for reading my ramblings.

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