Tuesday 12 April 2016

Etcetera, Etcetera, Etcetera!

No, this is not about the King of Siam who used the phrase frequently when under the tutelage of his English schoolmistress. It’s about the word, or most often the abbreviation we have taken for granted forever in expressing an ongoing list of things when we write or speak.

Many people, outside of those who do a lot of transcribing of old English documents, might not know it has been a part of the English language for centuries and was often written with the ampersand symbol. Reading old documents one will commonly come across both & and &c. Etcetera was originally a Latin phrase, “et”. The ampersand itself means “and” which when written in front of “et” or “c.” – as a ligature – would mean “and other things” and pronounced as etcetera. Simple enough!

The ampersand was at one time considered the 27th letter of the English alphabet, placed at the end after ‘z’. It was described as “and per se & (and)”.
From the 1788 book titled, Court-Hand Restored by Andrew Wright.
The symbol has taken many forms over the years as well as being used in most languages in Europe, having come from Latin roots. Its development is described in a book by Jan Tschichold, Formenwandlungen der ET-Zeichen (The Ampersand: Its origin and development); publisher: Woudhuysen, 1957.
One of the diagrams showing the forms of the ampersand symbol over the years (Tschichold, 1957)
In old documents, it can be found written in several ways, separately or as part of etcetera. BMD registers most often use the abbreviations.
1660 St. Clement Danes parish, Middlesex baptism register example
1660 Whitchurch parish, Shropshire baptism register example
1664 Acle Parish, Norfolk, marriage register example

1709 Cornwood parish, Devon marriage register example
This is just one of many interesting symbols and letter styles found in old records. North American documents from the 17th to the 19th centuries are very similar to those of England and generally will have the same writing style.

I’ll look at other Old English writing example in later posts. In the meantime, readers may wish to reacquaint themselves with a post from 5 August 2014 on Reading Old English.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is the Editor of Relatively Speaking, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Genealogical Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.