Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Wordy Wednesday! Lost Characters of the Alphabet

This weeks Wordy Wednesday! post is a bit different because this week I discovered something interesting about the English alphabet, so I thought I'd share it.

Did you know... ? 
The English alphabet, which is, as we all know, 26 letters long... used to be 27 letters long!

The 27th character was what we know today as the ampersand, or &

So I did a little digging to find our where this symbol came from and it turns out that the symbol (which is older than the word by about 1,500 years) came from Roman times, when they used to write in cursive. Their word for 'and' was 'et' and over time they linked the 'e' and the 't' and it became the '&', which was then adopted into English. 
The word 'ampersand' came into existence much later, sometime in the 1800's. 
The character came at the end of the alphabet, so when schoolchildren recited the alphabet as part of their lessons instead of finishing with, "X, Y, Z, and," they would finish with, "X, Y, Z, and per se and." This meant that they were essentially saying, "X, Y, Z, and by itself and." 
Over time the "and per se and" mixed together and became the word "ampersand."
(By the way, did you know that when a new word is born from mistaken pronunciation it is called a mondegreen!)

Cool right?

So why was the ampersand removed from the English alphabet? 

Well, no one seems to know, although there is some speculation that is has to do the with 'ABC' song, the one that follows the tune of 'Twinkle, Twinkle little Star'. 

While we're exploring the lost letters of the alphabet, have you heard of the 'thorn' and the 'wynn'? 
The 'thorn' and 'wynn' were left over characters from Old English that were incorporated into the Latin English alphabet when it was brought to the Anglo-Saxons by Christian Missionaries all those years ago. 
The 'thorn' character represented the 'th' sound but the letter that resembled it most in the Latin alphabet was 'y', so 'thorn' was dropped and 'y' took it's place. That is why 'ye' used to mean 'the'. (Ye Olde English Pub!)
'Wynn' was a character that looked sort of like a 'p' but sounded like a 'w'. This character was replaced by 'uu' which, of course, then evolved into 'w'.

The last piece of alphabet trivia i'll leave you with is that the letters 'u' and 'j' didn't appear in our alphabet until sometime in the sixteenth century. Fancy that?  

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