How did 7 come to be an abbreviation for 'and' in Old English? is a beautiful question about the Tiroian "et", which is now the "⁊" character 1.

My question is what impact did the association of this 7-like-glyph have on the eventual placement of keyboards placing the & on Shift+7 combination?

The Wikipedia article on the QUERTY keyboard shows that the ampersand was a separate key in the bottom left of the keyboard in the original patent application drawings. The patent was filed in 1878. The Das Keyboard blog shows a Full Duplex keyboard (with separate keys for upper and lower case letters) from 1897 with no ampersand key at all. I have not yet been able to find a reference to the first keyboard to place the ampersand and 7 together. The Wiki article on the ampersand only mentions that it is usually keyed via Shift+7, but occasionally on 6 or 8 instead. Dvorak layouts appear to share similar associations between 7 and &.

So is it a coincidence? Or is there some association?

1 This looks really different in the EL&U site fontface. See the linked question or the Wikipedia article for more faithful renderings.

closed as off-topic by Drew, Araucaria, Chenmunka, Robusto, phenry Oct 10 '14 at 16:28

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  • Apologies if this is off-topic. I don't even have the cop-out that this is about english keyboards, as the ampersand and 7 association is prominent is other language keyboard layouts as well. Well, expect for the very tenuous connection that the first keyboards were English language, but that hinges too on the information I couldn't find... – Patrick M Oct 9 '14 at 20:30
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    On German keyboard the & is on the 6 :-) – Martin Oct 9 '14 at 21:48
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    What an interesting speculation. I would bet that it is a coincidence, because I doubt that any of the people involved in the designing the keyboard layout had even heard of the tironian 'et'. But I have no information about it. – Colin Fine Oct 9 '14 at 21:52
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about keyboards, not English. – Drew Oct 10 '14 at 2:47
up vote 17 down vote accepted

Although the 7 was the ampersand on IBM's standard keyboard layout, that is hardly universal. The first nine printable characters in ASCII are ! " # $ % & ' ( ), which should give a good clue as to what the top row of a teletype keyboard looked like. On many early teletypes and terminals (and also, BTW, on the Apple ][), the shift key toggled bit 4 of the character being produced, thus it would turn a 1 (011 0001) into ! (010 0001), and , (010 1100) into < (011 1100). Since the digits 1-9 received consecutive code, so did the characters produced by combining them with the shift key. Shift-7 on those keyboards was apostrophe; the ampersand was shift-6.

Other typewriter keyboards also varied considerably in where they put the ampersand. Its association with the number 7 is nowhere near as consistent as the association between 1 and !, 3 and #, 4 and $, or 5 and % which existed in both older computer keyboards and today's US arrangement.

  • +1. If you come up with a source/reference for the typewriter keyboard shift + number associations, I will accept. – Patrick M Oct 10 '14 at 1:34
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    Isn't that fairly obvious just from looking at an ASCII chart? – tripleee Oct 10 '14 at 7:23
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    Sure, but the question then becomes which came first? A typewriter with a 7-& on it or ASCII? I have a hunch it wasn't ASCII, @tripleee. That's why I asked for a citation on the typewriter keyboards. – Patrick M Oct 10 '14 at 16:01
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    @PatrickM: The placement of characters within the ASCII set was motivated by their placement on keyboards. If the association of "7" and "&" was as well established as the associations of 1, 3, 4, and 5 with "!", "#", "$", and "%", then 0x27 would have been an ampersand, and the apostrophe would have some other code. – supercat Oct 10 '14 at 16:17
  • Right. I can't count. Or type. And it would help if I learned to read. That does make it pretty clear that the only real meat left to the question is about the history of keyboards and the 7-ish tironian et is a red herring in the history of the ampersand. – Patrick M Oct 13 '14 at 15:05

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