The American Heritage dictionary defines the word "ampersand" as the character or sign "&," representing "and."

The American Heritage dictionary defines the word "ampersand" as the character or sign "&," representing "and."

Surely, this is lacking. For example, if "&" and "and" are interchangeable, why is it not proper to write "John took the test & got an "A." Also, should an ampersand be capitalized to start a sentence? Just wondering. Here's a chance to prove yourselves.

— Lou H., Medford

& who said we had anything to prove, Lou?

"&" is a "ligature" — two letters joined into a single glyph — of the letters in "et," which is the Latin word for "and."

& a ligature and a conjunction don't equate.

The "&" has been around since ancient Rome. Calligraphers liked it because it saved them work, & printers, when they came along, took it from there.

"&" used to be considered the last letter of the alphabet. In "Adam Bede," George Eliot's Jacob Storey refers to this when he says, "He thought it (Z) had only been put to finish off th' alphabet like; though ampusand would ha' done as well, for what he could see."

The word ampersand is a corrupt version of the phrase "and per se and," meaning "and (the symbol which) by itself (is) and." The Scots call it the epershand, which they derive from "et per se and."

& there is the story that the word comes from an inventor named Linus Amper, hence "Amper's And." The story is false & has no basis in fact & that's all we have to say.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. The volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.