And per se and

The name of the & character, ampersand, is short for and per se and, meaning and by itself and. People used to recite it at the end of the alphabet. About that much there's no doubt.

But of the two ands in that phrase, which one designates the ampersand? Is it and per se & or & per se and? It seemed clear to me that the former is the correct reading, so I did a little desultory research.

Most sources say the derivation is & per se and, but the story of reciting the alphabet is firmly established and I don't see how and, the conjunction, could possibly appear at the end. The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins takes my point of view.

An alternative adopted by the American Heritage and Merriam-Webster dictionaries is that the words and per se and are to be construed as & by itself [means] 'and', but that seems far more strained to me than the natural x, y, z, and per se &.

So I suppose you can say what you like.


Anonymous said...

I always assumed it was "x, y, z, and 'per se and'" i.e. "... and the symbol & which by itself means "and"" also.

Wendell Piez said...

"... and per se &" meaning "and &, per se" meaning "and &, as itself" meaning "and &, as a letter not a word". It makes more sense if you adopt an alternate name for the "&" and pronounce it "et", except then of course you don't have to explain it by designating it a "per se &" since you could just say "and 'et'".

Why one doesn't say "and &, per se" I leave to you. (Of course, most would say "and per se and" since that's the way they learned it. Or rather, they would say what they heard and hence learned: "ampersand".)

An interesting case of tail-nibbling.