Research: Bring the 27th letter back

Print Article

Everyone knows the English alphabet has 26 letters, right?

Wrong.

At least it wasn’t always true. We once had several more, confirmed by Oxford Dictionaries. In fact, in the 1800s schoolchildren were taught the alphabet rhyme a little differently, according to Dictionary.com. Try this ending with a little hum:

“…T U V, X Y Z and per se and.”

Yup, I mean the ampersand — “&” was once an official part of the English alphabet — allegedly as far as back as the year 45 C.E. It appeared on the first printing press in the 1400s.

It sounds dumb to say, “X Y Z and and,” so the & symbol was called “and per se.” Per se means by itself.

Over time, “and per se and” got pushed together in pronunciation, morphing into ampersand. Ta da. (Useless fact: Mrs. Language Person says when a mispronounced word becomes a real one, it’s called a mondegreen.)

The image happened the same way. Latin for “and” is et. Imagine that in cursive, with the curved E. Check this out:

OK, so this linguistic tidbit is old news. Why bring it up in 2019? Because some want it back.

As the argument goes, we do still use the ampersand. Businesses seem to love it; the & symbol looks cooler than spelling it out, especially when acronyms or initials are involved. Law and accounting firms break up lists of partners with it. We still see it in books and on keyboards, and it symbolizes an actual word. True, so do % and #, but they were never part of the alphabet.

If you’re convinced, A&W Restaurants (like the root beer) actually has an online petition you can sign.

Fellow linguaphiles may point out & isn’t the only letter to disappear from our alphabet. Among the others, the best bring-it-back candidate is the thorn — but that’s a story for another day.

My thanks to reader Owen M. for today’s topic.

•••

Sholeh Patrick is a columnist & lover of language who considers no letter nor linguistic fact surplus to requirements. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.

Print Article

Read More Sholeh Patrick

Research: How to feed your genes

May 21, 2019 at 5:00 am | Coeur d'Alene Press Are you a cheese fanatic? Can’t stand spinach? It might be in your genes. In 2014, Italian researchers discovered 17 genes related to specific food cravings, plus a genetic connection to salt perc...

Comments

Read More

Opinion: Sobs: RIP, Doris

May 16, 2019 at 5:00 am | Coeur d'Alene Press Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I felt a painful tug o’the heart when I read the news: Doris Day, dead this week at 97. Atta girl, giving it such a long go. Yes, I’m a big fan. She had that elusive ima...

Comments

Read More

Research: Debt can ravage mental health

May 14, 2019 at 5:00 am | Coeur d'Alene Press When we think about mental health, debt doesn’t typically come to mind. Perhaps it should. According to research published by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control,...

Comments

Read More

Research: The stories behind our graduation traditions

May 09, 2019 at 5:00 am | Coeur d'Alene Press As I lined up (feeling rather awkward) in full regalia — complete with Cambridge-style cap and voluminous gown — for University of Idaho’s commencement ceremony in Coeur d’Alene Monday, I couldn’t he...

Comments

Read More

Contact Us

(208) 664-8176
215 N. Second St
Coeur d'Alene, Idaho 83814

©2019 The Coeur d'Alene Press Terms of Use Privacy Policy
X
X