Perhaps it is just my own misunderstanding, but growing up people around me referred to both & (which is correct) and @ (which I suppose is incorrect) as ampersand. It confused me for a great many years into my adult life, especially before I started using computers where it seems quite natural to refer to @ as the "at sign" because that is how it is used.

Is there any historical justification for referring to @ as an ampersand? The closest I can find is in Tagalog where perhaps @ can be used in a manner to mean and, but I certainly had no Tagalog interaction as a youth.

  • 2
    I would note that the "at sign" was so called before it started to be used for that in computing, because it was used to indicate "at the price of." Internet image searches suggest that the sign was standard on typewriters from at least the late 19th century onward. – phoog Nov 10 '16 at 17:38
  • 2
    I would add that I suspect the answer to your question is "no, there is no basis for that." Here's a handwritten example I found from 1863: antiquesnavigator.com/ebay/images/2016/231919773035.jpg – phoog Nov 10 '16 at 17:46
  • The origin of 'ampersand' is supposed to be the combination of "and per se 'and'" - when the alphabet was recited it & was considered a 27th letter per se (See Wikipedia). Perhaps this is convergent evolution in that people called the @ per se 'at', it being 'at' by itself. Then the names could have been confused and the name "and per se 'at'" became ampersat. A possible confusion could then have caused them to share names. – BladorthinTheGrey Nov 10 '16 at 21:43

There are quite a few connections between the two symbols and their names. While it's difficult to find instances of @ being called ampersand (for obvious reasons), I have found plenty of examples of it being portmanteau'd into a blend of the two terms.

The earliest reference I can find is from 1996, the ampersat. Another source, Beginning PHP4, in 2000 uses the term every time they refer to the symbol:

For example, ages should be realistic values, addresses should contain states, zip codes and such like, and e-mail addresses should contain the ampersat (@) symbol.
page 240


@ often known as an "ampersat"
page 249

According to one source, the symbol's "official" name is the "asperand" (not that I really believe that):

Officially called an "asperand," the at sign separates the recipient's name from the domain name in e-mail; for example, me@mycompany.com.

The Computer Desktop Encyclopedia

Furthermore, Urban Dictionary has entries for "atpersand" and "atpersat".

It's also worth noting that '&' originated as a ligature of et, which is also the name for at in some languages. Ultimately, however, I think it's the visual similarities (both are essentially loopy ligatures), the juxtaposition (shift+2 and shift + 7), and the fact that they both symbolize words starting with "a" that created the connection.

  • I'm pretty sure I learned the term "ampersat" before "ampersand", back in the dark ages of email addresses. I wonder if ampersat has any history of coming from "(and) per se at", since ampersand apparently originated from "and per se and" and the @ symbol would be "per se" in the same way as the & symbol. – 1006a Sep 7 '18 at 20:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.