Although the symbol goes back nearly two thousand years, its name is a relative newcomer. Scholars believe the name ampersand originated in the nineteenth century, when the symbol & was included as the last letter of the alphabet. When children recited the alphabet aloud, they prefaced A, I, and & with per se, which meant by itself, because when spoken aloud, A, I, and & create separate words. The children’s recitation sounded like this: “Y, Z, and per se and.” Over time, those words slurred together as ampersand.
The ampersand has a few specialized uses:
- It may appear as part of a name in law firms, companies, and other organizations (e.g., Johnson & Johnson). The ampersand is a legal part of the name and cannot be replaced with and.
- An ampersand may be part of the accepted spelling of an acronym, such as R & D, R & R, or B & B.
- In a tweet, you can use the ampersand instead of and because you are limited to 140 characters. Normally, though, do not substitute & for and in other writing; it reads as informal and sloppy.
- In parenthetical academic citations in the text, as called for in MLA or APA style, use an ampersand when citing from a work with two or more authors (e.g., Smith & Jones).
- Credits for a screenplay may include ampersands. According to the Writers Guild of America, an ampersand joins two writers’ names when they worked as a team on a screenplay. If the writers’ names are linked by and, then they worked separately on the project.