The ampersand is friend to punctuation lovers, store owners with limited signboard space, and lazy people who can’t take the time to spell out “and” – for “and” is the meaning of this symbol, widely recognized visually but not always identified by name. Interestingly, the ampersand is a conjunction of the letters “e” and “t,” which spell the Latin word “et” (which means – you guessed it – “and.”) Technically, the term for such a symbol is “ligature,” but for now we’ll stick with explicating one useless grammatical term.

Legend has it that French physicist Andre-Marie Ampere (the man who invented electricity, from which “amperes” derive their name) popularized the symbol by using it liberally in his publications. In due time, people began duplicating “Ampere’s and,” or “ampersand.”

Ampere is dead, but the ampersand lives on as a convenient abbreviation frequently used in book and movie titles, company names (i.e. “Ampere & Sons Consolidated Pork, Ltd.”), law and architecture firms, and in text-message shorthand. Those who write and cite papers according to APA style may also be familiar with it: the ampersand is used in the reference section of APA papers to adjoin author names. (Not, however, for citations within the text, in which case the conventional “and” is required…the more you know!)

True to its Latin etymology, the ampersand has been around since the 1st century of ancient Rome. It played a prominent support role in a little-known deleted scene from the infamous 1979 film “Caligula.” The ampersand survived the fall of the Roman empire and remained in use in languages based on the Latin script through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and beyond. In each era, its style and appearance underwent transformation, but its meaning remained – and remains – the same.