Monthly Archives: August 2014

25 Words For Other Words



One of the intriguing things about languages is that they eventually develop vocabularies comprehensive enough to describe themselves, often down to their smallest units and components. So as well as drawing a distinction between nouns, verbs, and adjectives, we can talk about things like synonyms (happy, content) and antonyms (happy, sad); homophones (oar, ore, or) and homographs (bass the guitar, bass the fish); and digraphs (two letters with a single sound, like sh or ch), diphthongs (two vowel sounds in a single syllable, like “kah-oow” for cow) and ligatures (two letters joined as a single character, like Æ).

English being as vast and grandiloquent a language as it is of course, straightforward examples like these are just the tip of a linguistic iceberg. In fact there are dozens of little-known and little-used words referring to other words, describing their form, their origin, or their use. So next time you spot piripiri on a menu, or you’re trying to lip-read a conversation about “Ben’s men’s pens,” you’ll know exactly how to refer to it.


An anacronym is an acronym that has become so naturalized in the language that the phrase it originally stood for has now largely been forgotten. So “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus” is better known as scuba, and “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation” is laser. And Thomas A Swift’s electric rifle? That’ll be a taser.


An ananym is word coined by reversing the letters of an existing word, like yob from “boy,”emordnilap from “palindrome” (more on those later), and mho from “ohm”. Ananymic words are relatively rare, and you’re much more likely to come across them as proper nouns (like Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo company) or in fiction (like Samuel Butler’s Erewhon).


Also known as a contronym or a Janus word (after a dual-faced god in Roman mythology), anautoantonym is a word that can be its own opposite. So dusting a house implies removing a fine powder, while dusting for fingerprints involves applying a fine powder.


You’ve probably seen lists of these in airports or hotels, on ATMs or travel documents, or if you’ve ever tried to change the language settings of a webpage or cellphone: anautoglossonym is the name of a language written in that language, like English, Français,Español or Deutsch.


An autological word is word that describes itself. So short is short. Common isn’t rare.Unhyphenated doesn’t have a hyphen. Polysyllabic has more than one syllable.Pronounceable is perfectly pronounceable. And sesquipedalian is unquestionably sesquipedalian. The opposite is a heterological word. So rare isn’t rare. Long isn’t long (in fact it’s shorter than short). Hyphenated is unhyphenated. Symmetrical is asymmetrical.Monosyllabic is polysyllabic. And there’s nothing at all wrong with misspelled.


A backronym is a word or phrase mistakenly believed to be an acronym, which then becomes the subject of a “back-formed” (and completely untrue) etymology. So posh doesn’t stand for “port out, starboard home,” and golf doesn’t stand for “gentlemen only, ladies forbidden.” Nor does Adidas stand for “all day I dream about sport,” and SOS doesn’t mean “save our souls,” but is simply a memorable combination of dots and dashes (•••—•••) in Morse code.


A capitonym is a word whose meaning changes depending on whether it is capitalized or not, like Turkey and turkey, Polish and polish, or August and august. Most capitonyms are entirely coincidental and the two words in question are entirely unrelated, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the difference between the two is much more subtle, like moon (any natural satellite) and Moon (our natural satellite, from which all others are named), or sun (a star at the centre of a solar system) and Sun (our star).


A demonym is a word referring to or describing an inhabitant of a place, like New Zealander orParisian. In English, most demonyms behave fairly predictably and are formed using a suffix like –an (American), –ian (Canadian), –er (New Yorker), or –ese (Japanese) added to a place name. There are plenty of irregularities though, like Neapolitan (Naples), Glaswegian(Glasgow), Damascene (Damascus), Guamanian (Guam) and Monagasque (Monaco).


If a palindrome is a word or phrase that spells the same backwards as forwards, then anemordnilap is a word that spells a completely different word when it is reversed. So bragbecomes grab, reward becomes drawer, stressed becomes desserts, and so on. Emordnilapitself is an emordnilap of course, but it’s also an ananym and an autological word.


An endonym is a word that the speakers of a language or the inhabitants of a particular region use to refer to themselves, their hometown or their surroundings. The opposite is an exonymor xenonym, which is an outside equivalent or foreign translation of a local name. So London is an endonym is you’re a Londoner, while the French name Londres would be an exonym. Sometimes endonyms overtake exonyms and become the official name for a location regardless of language, as is the case with Mumbai (formerly Bombay), Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Myanmar (Burma), and Uluru (Ayer’s Rock).


In linguistics, the concepts of holonymy and meronymy refer to the relationship between parts and wholes – the “whole” is the holonym, and the “part” is the meronym. So a word like houseis a holonym that encompasses a group of meronyms like bedroom, bathroom, kitchen,doors, floors and walls. Body is a holonym for meronyms like arm, leg, head, stomach andfoot, and so on.


A holophrase is a single word used to sum up a full phrase or idea, like bouncebackability,ungetatable, or unputdownable. It takes its name from a linguistic phenomenon called holophrasis, whereby whole thoughts or sets of ideas are communicated by a single word or (as with babies first learning to speak) a single sound.


A homoeosemant is a word that has almost similar meaning to another, but not quite. Also known as “semi-synonyms,” homoeosematic words basically account for the ever so slight differences in meaning between sets of related words, like ask, question, probe, enquire,interview and interrogate.


Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings and often (but not always) different spellings, like dough and doe, or maze and maize. Homophenes however are words that look the same as they are pronounced, and so can prove problematic to lip-readers—try covering your ears and getting someone to say the words Ben, men, and penand you’ll soon get the idea.


A hypernym is essentially an “umbrella” term, under which a number of more specific words known as hyponyms can be listed. Unlike holonyms and meronyms, which deal with parts of a whole, hypernyms work like categories into which the subordinate hyponyms can be grouped. So animal is a hypernym incorporating hyponyms like mammal, fish and bird. In turn mammalserves as a hypernym for another set of hyponyms, like dog, cat and mouse. And dog is a hypernym for words like spaniel, collie, and terrier, and so on.


An oxytone is a word with stress on its final syllable, like guiTAR. A paroxytone has its stress on the second to last syllable, like piAno. And a proparoxtone on the syllable before that, likeacCORdion. Originally used in reference to Ancient Greek, terms like these are used in English to account for the differences between homographic words like CONduct as in “good conduct” (a paroxytone), and conDUCT as in “to conduct an orchestra” (an oxytone).


Coined by the journalist Frank Mankiewicz in the early 1980s, a retronym is a word that comes into being whenever a newer word or invention surpasses an older one, which then has to be renamed. So after electric guitars were invented, earlier non-electric guitars came to be known by the retronym acoustic guitars. The same thing happened with landline telephones,analogue clocks, field hockey, rugby union, silent films, 2D films, the French franc, BritishEnglish, George Bush Sr., and the First World War, which until the outbreak of the Second World War was known simply as “The Great War.”


A tautonym is a word made up of two (or more) identical, repeated parts. Normally this only applies to the scientific names of animals and plants, like the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) or the western lowland mountain gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), but it can also be used to describe words like goody-goody, tutu, piripiri, bye-bye and cha-cha-cha.


A troponym is a word (more often than not a verb) that provides a more detailed description of something than a more general word can. That might sound like the definition of an adverb (like happily or slowly), but troponyms are more like a cross between hyponyms and homoeosemants in that they are used to provide a slightly different, slightly more specific account than a more general synonym might. As such, troponyms are hugely important to writers of fiction, who want to provide as accurate and evocative a description as possible. Take a simple sentence like “She walked into the room,” for instance, and then substitute walkwith strut, march, stumble, creep, flounce, stagger or jump and you’ll soon see how important they are.



Stop Trying To Be So Efficient!

by Allan A.

It’s a go-go-go world. Read. Act. Write. Send. Repeat. We are just machines using machines to be faster machines. From the top down, we’ve all been instructed for decades to get things done more efficiently. What’s it gotten us?

Are law firms and accounting firms sending staff home because they worked so fast on their deliverables? Probably not.

Are software developers standing up from their cubicle mid-day to announce “Ok my part is done! See ya’all tomorrow!”? Ya right.

Are work-at-home professionals calling it quits early and logging off for the day because they quickly responded to every email? Not anyone I’ve ever known. Expectations of efficiency riding us from behind to hurry up, while the carrot of effectiveness gets dangled in front of us to bring quality results. What do we have to show for it?

A big pile of mistakes, frustrations, more work, and more time working – and we are ALL to blame. What I see now from the several thousands of people I interact with, is a trend of lower quality work products and communication, and everyone is keeping their mouth shut about it, because we are guilty of practicing it and encouraging it – and we are all paying a hefty price for it – our lost time and sanity.

I don’t want an accountant to do my taxes efficiently. I’m not excited about resubmitting corrections to the IRS because they made a few typos.

I don’t want an attorney to write our terms & conditions efficiently. Turns out lawsuits are even more costly than lawyers.

I don’t want a solution proposal to be done efficiently. Turns out no one likes scope creep after they buy. (Plus if I see a typo, I may discredit you and buy from someone else.)

I don’t want an assistant to make travel plans efficiently. My trip may either miss out on savings or be on a redeye or worse.

I don’t want marketing to get a campaign up efficiently. They might not deliver their best ideas.

I don’t want tech support to do their work efficiently. They might miss a step and create another problem.

Doesn’t seem like a healthy model to try to be efficient if it doesn’t get the job done in one shot. You are not helping your team, your career or your company. Instead, we ALL need to shift our mindset, motivation and reward systems on being effective.

If you are not sure what the difference is, I could tell you right here efficiently or you could find out effectively so you actually learn.


I’ve never met one person who read “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and disagreed with it. Did you think it would just efficiently get solved in one article? It’s going to take proactive effort on your part – on everyone’s part! As for my personal experience, it evolved who I am in a more positive way than any other business education I’ve ever had.

Every organization should build entire training and curriculum to train, nurture & reward these habits. What every leader needs to do is incorporate being an effective organization into their vision – starting with themselves first. What every manager needs to do is manage metrics & rewards on being effective. What every employee needs to do is make effectiveness their personal responsibility and learn to communicate that expectation to their peers and back up the command chain.

Practical Tips on Being Effective

While each company and individual has to come to grips on how to execute and implant the solution into their core being, here are some tips that can make the evolution to a more effective professional a little smoother. It is certainly helping me and our company.

Tip #1. Go to “You’re welcome”. This is my personal favorite. Do the job so well that you can confidently ask “Is there anything else I can do for you?”, receive a response “No thank you” and be the final say to the matter with “You’re welcome.” The other person will walk away with the feeling that they were helped and you were professional – a good sign that you were effective.

Tip #2. Communicate at your recipient’s level of understanding. Don’t E=MC2 unless you’re talking to another Einstein. Business communication is not about showing everyone how many big words you know. Keep your communication simple and always ask the person if they understand or if there is anything you can clarify for them. You are only as effective as the person that understands you.

Tip #3. Stop using your smartphone all the time! Since there are only 6 people left with blackberries, the rest of us have a hard time typing or dictating lengthy content with our touch screen phones. So we under-communicate, which spurs a series of replies, or dozens of replies if others are copied, which could have been communicated with one email if you took the time to compose your thoughts, instead of banging out another worthless email while waiting for your coffee.

Tip #4. Do not respond until you have the complete response. If you were asked 3 questions and only know the answer to 1, please don’t respond. You already suck with your smart phone. Don’t frustrate your recipient even more. Just flag it or save it in drafts and finish it later. When you make other people have to remind you to complete your commitment as your method of task-management, it just reminds them how unprofessional you are. So respond once, when you have all the information ready to respond and try to accomplish Tip #1.

Tip #5. Use Delay Delivery in Outlook often. The more complex the thought being communicated, the less desirable and beneficial for your immediate response. If you are certain you have the response, reply and hit Delay Delivery. Then later when the better thought occurs to you (and it usually will), you’ll be doing yourself and the recipient a favor by having time to edit it before it goes out. Plus no one needs your response immediately all the time, they have other work they are trying to do effectively.

Tip #6. Say “I don’t understand” often. Many people shy away from this because they think it will make them look less smart. It won’t. You’ll be helping yourself and the other person will usually try even harder to communicate even more clearly. You might have missed something anyway; you are trying to unlearn decades of poor work place habits of trying to being so efficient that has led to so many mistakes and re-work. Understand?

Tip #7. Verify your work! Did you complete a tax return? Check it over in detail even if you’ve done a 1000 like it before. Did you install software? Test it as the user would before you declare victory! Did you write a brief or scope of work? Proof read it before you send it out. The world is not here to verify your quickly-put-together work product for you and tell you to try again, that’s called “sucking at what you do”, even if you are the fastest at repeating it until you get it right.

Tip #8. Get closure. Ask “Are you satisfied with what I have provided?” Ask “Is there anything else I can do for you?” no matter how big or small what you completed. It makes people feel good about you, gives you a chance to truly deliver. Delivery happens when everyone signs off and you can get a chance to implement Tip #1.

If you implement these tips into everything you do at work, you will be reducing the mistakes, frustration and time spent working on activities.



3 Reasons why taking a break makes us more productive

Last week I took off to Montana with some good friends for a few days lake-side. We mountain biked, paddle-boarded, wake surfed and bon-fired our brains out of work mode and was fabulous.

It’s now a new week and I am back to work feeling like a million bucks. In wondering why I am feeling so ready to take on the world, I did a little research into the science behind the need for taking little holidays and how that can effect your productivity. Here are a few things that I learned:

1. A relaxed mind creates perspective

The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.

-essayist Tim Kreider

Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees and you need to physically take a step away in order to get a fresh perspective. A few days away doing something where your mind is unplugged and not focusing on the processes, systems, issues, needs etc of your business, will give you a chance to come back to it and see things with new eyes.

2. Downtime creates clarity

…Downtime is in fact essential to mental processes that affirm our identities, develop our understanding of human behavior and instill an internal code of ethics—processes that depend on the DMN (Default Mode Network). Downtime is an opportunity for the brain to make sense of what it has recently learned, to surface fundamental unresolved tensions in our lives and to swivel its powers of reflection away from the external world toward itself.

-Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of the University of Southern California

When we take some time off, away from our devices, the constant stream of information, the questions and demands, our brains get a chance to make sense of the world. It reminds me of that scene from I Love Lucy when she is in the chocolate factory making chocolates and she can’t keep up with the conveyer belt. That’s kind of like our brain when we are busy: We need a chance to filter information in order to feel confident that we can move forward and make wise decisions, manage our needs well and move ahead.

3. Chilling out keeps you stable

Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life.

-Ferris Jabr in Scientific American online

When you are stable, you can handle a lot more. The misnomer is that if you take a break, you won’t get enough done. Research has shown that by taking a break, you will actually get more done, feel better about it and be happier while doing it. To me, that’s a no brainier!

Let’s do this

Think about ways that you can give yourself a little break every now and then. Things like yoga and meditation are great daily breaks for the brain. Taking an afternoon off and going for a hike or adding a Friday off every now and then to unplug for the weekend is more doable than you may think. Planning the big holiday is important too. If you don’t plan it, it usually won’t happen. Give yourself a leg up by putting your legs up every now and then and see what happens.

If you want to nerd-out on the research behind these thoughts here are some links that you may enjoy:

Functional connectivity in the resting brain: A network analysis of the default mode hypothesis

Consistent resting-state networks across healthy subjects

Rest Is Not Idleness: Implications of the Brain’s Default Mode for Human Development and Education



Why Isn’t ‘Arkansas’ Pronounced Like ‘Kansas’?

Kansas and Arkansas aren’t so far from each other on the map, but their names seem to want nothing to do with each other. Though they share all but two letters in common, Kansas comes out as “KANzis” and Arkansas as “ARkansaw.” Why so different?

Kansas was named for the Kansa, a Siouan tribe that lived in the region. The Kansa people were called, in plural, Kansas, and that became the name of the state. But before it did, English, French, and Spanish speakers, as well as speakers of various Native American languages, all came up with their own ways of pronouncing (and writing) the name of the tribe. The Kansa themselves pronounced it with a nasalized “a” (rather than a full “n”), a “z,” and an “eh” sound – approximately “kauzeh.” Everyone else had their own versions, and historical records show all kinds of spellings: Kansa, Kansas, Kantha, Kances, Konza, Kauzas, Canees, Canceys… Eventually, Kansas won out.

Arkansas was named for a related Siouan tribe, the Quapaw. The Algonquians called them “akansa,” joining their own a- prefix (used in front of ethnic groups) to the Kansa name (the same root as that for Kansas). The Algonquians’ name for the Quapaw was picked up by others, and was also spelled in various ways: Akancea, Acansea, Acansa. However, it was the French version, Arcansas, that became the basis for the eventual state name. In French the final plural s is not pronounced. Somehow, the English speakers that took over after the Louisiana Purchase decided to go with a modified French spelling along with a French pronunciation – an s on the page, but not on the tongue. (Incidentally, the name Ozark comes from French aux Arcs, short for aux Arcansas. And the same native word that became Wichita in Kansas went with the Frenchified spelling Ouachita in Arkansas.)

Actually, it took some time for Arkansans to come to agreement on pronunciation. In 1881, a heated disagreement between the state’s two senators, one who said “arKANzis” and the other who said “ARkansaw,” led to a ruling by the state legislature making the “ARkansaw” pronunciation official. Ever since, Americans have gone along with the s-less, first-syllable-stressed version of Arkansas. At least when it comes to the state name. The people of Kansas don’t go any further than that. For them it’s the “arKANzis” River, and “arKANzis” City.



A Professor’s Pointers for Success in College: 21 Easy-to-Follow Tips

It’s about that time again. Sleepy college towns will begin to awaken, abuzz with an excitement that only college students can inspire. Young scholars will soon arrive on college and university campuses, ready, or not so ready, to take on the world of higher education.

I have been teaching college students for 13 years, and I’ve come to know a thing or two about what makes some students more successful than others. Whether you’re beginning your first year or returning as a seasoned upperclass(wo)man, I hope I can provide some practical advice as you embark on a new academic year. You see, we professors want all of our students to succeed. We want you to learn and grow and thrive, both academically and socially.

So here’s to ivy-covered buildings, critical thinking, independence, making friends for life, asking hard questions, becoming global citizens, and discovering who you really are.

1. Don’t be anonymous. Introduce yourself to your professors and speak up in class, especially if you attend a large university with huge class sizes. I’m not saying you have to sit in the front row, answer every question and bring the instructor chocolates (did I say chocolates? I meant apples).

Just don’t hide in the back of the room and be invisible. Moreover, don’t hesitate to ask questions in class; if you’re wondering about something, chances are that someone else is too. If you think of a question outside of class time, visit the professor during office hours (that’s the purpose of office hours) or send an email (see #9).

2. Read all of your syllabi carefully. The syllabus is your contract for the course. There’s no excuse for not being aware of essential information that has been provided to you. In addition, check your email account daily; faculty and staff members will use email to communicate additional information to you.

3. Stay on top of your work. Try not to procrastinate. “Plan ahead” should be your mantra for your academic life. Nobody ever says “Oh shit, I started on that too early,” but plenty of students regret waiting until the last minute to begin studying or working on a project. Avoid pulling all-nighters (see Dr. Pamela V. Thacher’s study).

4. Turn in all assignments. It’s better to hand something in late than not at all; a zero can really hurt your course grade. If you’re struggling with an assignment or you fall behind, talk to your instructor — in advance, not the day said assignment is due. Professors are human too (well, most of us are, anyway) and some will consider giving you an extension, especially if you show evidence of progress on the assignment.

5. Work on improving your writing. Take advantage of the writing center and tutors at your school. You won’t regret it. Learn how to use commas and semi-colons; they’re important. For instance, the difference between “Let’s eat, grandma” and “Let’s eat grandma” is a dead grandma and my thinking you’re a cannibal. In addition, ‘there,’ ‘their’ and ‘they’re’ are three different words with three different meanings. For the love of God, please learn how to use these words, and other homonyms, correctly.

6. Always do the assigned readings, even if there isn’t a quiz. Professors know when you haven’t read, even if they don’t call you out on it; you’re not fooling anyone.

7. Be aware of each instructor’s attendance policy; missing class can adversely affect your grade.

8. Be aware of your institution’s academic dishonesty policy and learn how to cite sources correctly. Whether you’re writing a paper or giving an oral presentation, you must cite all of your sources. If you do not give credit to the source, you are guilty of plagiarism! I recommend A Pocket Style Manual by Diana Hacker or The Little Seagull Handbook by Richard Bullock and Francine Weinberg. Do not ever, ever, even think about turning in a friend’s paper from a previous semester or buying a paper from a web site. It’s just not worth it. Trust me on this one.

9. Please use email etiquette; it will make your sweet grandma proud (if you haven’t eaten her, that is- see # 5). When emailing a faculty or staff member whom you don’t know, do not use the person’s first name. Use his/her title, i.e. Dean, Dr., Professor, etc. (Please note that in the arts there are two terminal degrees, an MFA and a PhD; MFAs have the title of Professor, not Dr., so you may want to address arts faculty as Professor if you’re unsure.) And for the love of all things good in the world, PLEASE DO NOT USE ALL CAPS, i.e. ANN MARIE, I HAVE TO GET INTO YOUR CLASS OR ELSE… See #10.

10. If you’d like an instructor to add you to a full or over-enrolled course, don’t send an email pleading to be added, as s/he is probably inundated with such emails. Drop by the professor’s office instead. When you arrive, do yourself a favor and don’t barge in without introducing yourself, talking a mile a minute and making demands; this approach is ineffective. A more appropriate strategy is to introduce yourself, ask him if he has time to talk, and state that you’d like to add his course and why (preferably something other than “If you don’t let me into your course I’ll just die!” complete with tears and jazz hands). Following some basic rules of interpersonal communication will go a long way. If you can’t track the professor down, send an email (see #9) and ask if you can set up a time to meet. Please don’t harass or blame him for why you haven’t gotten into the course in the past, because chances are, he isn’t involved in a conspiracy against you and probably doesn’t have the power to change the past.

11. If you enjoy a course, let the professor know. S/he will appreciate it, and it may help the instructor to remember you. You never know when you’ll need a letter of recommendation or a reference for an internship, a job, or graduate school.

12. When professors write you letters of recommendation, send them a thank you note (the kind from the olden days that involve a pen and an envelope!). Writing recommendation letters is a time-consuming task and one that instructors don’t haveto do; let them know you appreciate it. And if you get into the international program or grad. school or get the internship or job, let your professor know. Nothing makes us happier than seeing you succeed. This is why we do what we do.

13. Broaden your horizons; take a course outside of your program. If you’re concerned about not doing well, find out if you can take the course pass/fail so you can focus on learning for learning’s sake (what a novel idea!) without it adversely affecting your g.p.a. For instance, take a public speaking course. Many instructors require oral presentations, and this is a skill that will serve you well both during and after college.

14. Show the librarians some love! Don’t wander around the library aimlessly. Ask the experts for help. Librarians are some of the most resourceful people you’ll ever meet.

15. Take pride in your work and in yourself. Don’t compromise your beliefs for anyone.

16. Choose your friends carefully. Your friends are your family away from home. Don’t choose a bunch of jackasses to be your family.

17. Don’t forget where you come from. Remember the people who helped you get to college in the first place. Call your parents. (Call them. Texting is not the same thing!)

18. Choose your major carefully, and make sure you’re choosing it for you; you’re the one who could work in a field connected to that major for, say, 40 YEARS. Work hard for you. Get a college degree for you, for your future. Believe in yourself.

19. Remember that education is the key that will open many doors for you. Don’t take it for granted. Take advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow as a student and person. Know that learning happens both in and outside the classroom. Join a club, attend a performance or guest lecture, volunteer. Now is the time to focus on yourself and your education.

20. Be kind. To everyone. Not much in this world matters more. And you never know what a difference your kindness might make.

21. Know that you are not alone. If you need support, ask for it. We who have made education our life’s work want to see you succeed; let us know how we can help.

Wishing you well,
A prof. who loves her job


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Where Did The Ampersand Symbol Come From?


The symbol we know as the ampersand first appeared in some graffiti on a Pompeian wall around the first century A.D. It wasn’t called an “ampersand” at the time—it was just a ligature of the cursive letters “E” and “T” forming the Latin word et, which means “and.” (This is why “etc.” is sometimes written “&c”.)

At first, & had competition for use, as shorthand et—the “Tironian et” (⁊)—was created several hundred years before as part of Cicero’s secretary Tiro’s extensive shorthand system, thenotae Tironianae. But although it persisted into the Middle Ages, eventually the entire notae Tironianae fell out of use, leaving & to evolve and spread along with the language.

By the early nineteenth century, & was the 27th letter in the alphabet, coming right after Z. Without a title yet, it was still read as just “and,” which made reciting the end of the alphabet a little confusing—”X, Y, Z and and.” Kids starting inserting the phrase “and per se and” to distinguish it, and over time, this all got blended together to sound more and more like “ampersand.” The mondegreen name for the centuries old symbol first appeared in the dictionary in 1837.



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