Monday, September 12, 2005

The rise of the ampersand?

This article on the rising use of the ampersand comes with the good and the bad.

There is the interesting information:
The ampersand symbol is a combination of the letters "et," which is Latin for "and." In an article by award-winning design consultant Max Caflisch on the Adobe Systems Inc. Web site ( d.html) he writes that "one of the first examples of an ampersand (is) on a piece of papyrus from about 45 A.D." The ligature became a standard device for calligraphers and its use spread with the invention of printing in the early 15th century. And it has recently been adopted by computer programmers.

According to, the term ampersand "comes from the practice once common in schools of reciting all 26 letters of the alphabet followed by the "&" sign, pronounced 'and,' which was considered part of the alphabet." This recitation ended in the words "per se," as was common to signal that a letter could be used as a word itself. Thus the phrase "and, per se" evolved into "ampersand" and "crept into common English usage by around 1837," according to
And the not-so-interesting:
Hollywood has a new symbol to which standard rules of usage and reference do not appear to apply. It has crept from the corporate and commercial world that was its natural domain into the mainstream, text-driven, keyboard-and-cell-phone culture with the speed of the Nike swoosh and the stealth of kudzu.

It is called the ampersand, and it is out to conquer the world. ...

"It's such a long word for such a short symbol," says Erica Olsen, a copy editor at the California College of the Arts.
The article quotes Bryan Garner, but I can't imagine he didn't have anything more interesting to say than this:
When asked if it is a symbol or a word, modern usage authority Bryan Garner, editor of Black's Law Dictionary and Garner's Modern American Usage, describes it as "a symbol for a word." Its rise, he says, is part of the movement toward grammatical economy where "saving characters is very much at a premium," he says.
But the symbol isn't covered in "Modern American Usage" from what I can see.

By the way, I didn't see a thing in that piece that convinced me that the use of the ampersand was indeed on the rise. And I'll keep you posted on any articles involving the rise of the virgule (which I do believe is happening), the octothorpe or the interrobang.


At 8:08 AM, September 13, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

" ... articles involving the rise of the virgule (which I do believe is happening), the octothorpe or the interrobang."

Ha! It's a good day when I have to look up three words before 9 am. Thanks for the opportunity.

Actually, when I tracked down "octothorpe," I realized I had seen that one before; it had just slipped my mind. This is an interesting item, purporting to supply "the real source of the word 'octothorpe'." Entertaining, even if apocryphal. I find the whole Jim Thorpe connection pretty hilarious.

Thanks also for the Adobe article on the ampersand (URL embedded in the quoted newspaper article). Gorgeous!
An unregenerate typehead since the days of phototypesetting, I could look at those characters all day long.

I enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work!

At 9:00 PM, September 13, 2005, Blogger Nick said...

I have to say, in setting style for my newspaper, I've encouraged the use of the ampersand in proper names -- whenever the organization named uses it, and also in cases where the organization seems ambiguous. It seems helpful to keep the portions of a proper name tied together with an ampersand -- Bailey, Banks & Biddle, the Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center. They seem more like a unit and less like two things that the writer has tied together in a list.

At 10:28 PM, September 14, 2005, Blogger Nicole said...

I love the Jim Thorpe version of the story, too. I saw it at Wikipedia.

At 3:05 PM, June 06, 2008, Blogger LadrĂ³n de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

The ampersand was a huge symbol back in the 1970s and an important graphic element in the posters for movies such as "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" and "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid". There was even a freebie campus magazine called Ampersand (the word, not the symbol) but it confused the majority of the kids because they knew the symbol not the word. Do they still teach about the em-dash and en-dash in J-schools these days?


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