Ampersands, &c.

The ampersand has been with us perhaps since the first century CE in one form or another. It’s a conjoining of the e and t, forming the Latin et, which means “and.” You can still make out both letters in even the most abstract designs since typographers know that the...

Merry Xmas, Happy Holidays, &cetera

“Xmas” has been used in English for centuries. The X is an abbreviation for Christ, from the first letter of Greek Christos. First appearing in English in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle in the early twelfth century, it was spelled with Xp or Xr, corresponding to the Greek...

The long s is often mistaken for an f

The long s (∫) has its roots in Roman cursive and was common in print in Europe from the 15th through the 18th centuries. It still appears in the German Eszett (ß), which is an ss ligature (a connected long s and short s) that was common in European printing before...

At’s what we’re talking about

Ray Tomlinson, who chose the at sign for use in delivering e-mail The “at” symbol’s  roots are late medieval. Scribes perhaps created a shortcut ligature of the Latin ad (to or at). The first documented use was in a letter by Francesco Lapi in 1536. The Florentine...

Ye olde deliberate antiquarianism…

“Ye” was pronounced “the.” “Ye” is a 16th century substitution of a ‘y’ for an Old English character known as the thorn (‘þ’), originally a Germanic rune that represented the interdental th sound. In late 15th century, early English printers, whose types were still...