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How '?' and '&' Got That Way

Years ago, in the days when people wrote in Latin, a query was indicated by the word "questio," meaning "question," at the end of a sentence. This word took up valuable space on a page, however. Soon, an unknown pioneer of shorthand had the idea to abbreviate "questio" to "QO." But now the two letters could be mistaken for the ending of a word! What to do now?

Writers compressed the notation still further. Now they put the Q on top of the O. But before long, the Q degenerated into a squiggle and the O became a dot. Our present-day question mark had arrived. What do you think, questio.

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How children named the ampersand

An ampersand is that curly symbol (&) that lets you write "and" with just one stroke. It was used as early as the 12th century to replace "et" (Latin for "and"). If you look closely, you'll see that an ampersand is a combination of a capital E and the crossbar of a T. But where did the symbol get its name? The credit goes to children.

Well into the 19th century, throughout English-speaking countries, this symbol was taught in schools as part of the ABCs. In effect, it was the 27th letter of the alphabet: X, Y, Z, &. Students were taught to recite "and, per se, and" meaning "&, by itself, means 'and.' " Over time, children slurred the phrase to "ampersand."

The Oxford English Dictionary cites 1837 as the first recorded reference to this new word for an old symbol - a word that children created.

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