About the ampersand

What exactly is an ampersand?

It’s a lig­a­ture, or join­ing, of the let­ters “e” & “t,” which in Latin is “et,” or “and.”

When did it originate?

The amper­sand can be traced back to the 1 A.D. and the old Roman cur­sive, in which the let­ters E and T  were some­times writ­ten togeth­er to form a lig­a­ture (a join­ing of two char­ac­ters) — some­thing like this:

Earliest ampersand specimens

Why does it look the way it does?

There are many dif­fer­ent visu­al styles of the amper­sand, each ren­dered to com­ple­ment the type­style it’s designed for. As long as you can see (or as long as the type design­er thinks he sees) an “e” and a “t,” you’ve got an amper­sand. Here are some examples:

Did you know our alphabet used to have more than 26 characters?

The sym­bol “&” was actu­al­ly part of the Eng­lish alpha­bet in the ear­ly 1800s.  It was the 27th let­ter, or more accu­rate­ly, glyph, lig­a­ture or symbol.

Why is it called “ampersand”?

School chil­dren recit­ing their ABCs con­clud­ed the alpha­bet with &. It would have been con­fus­ing to say “X, Y, Z, and.” Rather, the stu­dents said, “and per se and.” “Per se” means “by itself,” so the stu­dents were essen­tial­ly say­ing, “X, Y, Z, and, by itself, ‘and’.”

Over time, “and per se and” was slurred togeth­er into the word we use today: amper­sand. When a word comes about from a mis­tak­en pro­nun­ci­a­tion, it’s called a mondegreen.

Is the plus sign an ampersand?

Plus” is a Latin word for “more.” So maybe the plus sign is a fig­ure of sole ori­gin, or it may have been derived from the amper­sand, which in a way also means “more.” Here is my own sequence of evo­lu­tion that sup­ports the the­o­ry it is derived from the ampersand:

Why is World Ampersand Day Sept.8?

It was appar­ent sev­er­al of the char­ac­ters in “Sep­tem­ber 8” can be clev­er­ly dis­guised as amper­sands when cer­tain fonts are used, like this:

SEPTEMBER 8 typogram

For you typophiles, here are the fonts & fam­i­lies used to cre­ate the typogram*. Click on the image to view full size:

Typestyles used in SEPTEMBER 8

The SEPTEMBER 8 typogram* is not the offi­cial World Amper­sand Day logo. Here’s what that looks like, designed by Chaz DeS­i­mone & reg­is­tered with Nation­al Day Cal­en­dar in 2015. Note, this is the for­mer Nation­al Amper­sand Day logo, used to call out the typog­ra­phy. The World Amper­sand Day logo is the same except “nation­al” is now “world.” The new des­ig­na­tion was reg­is­tered in 2022. Once the James Webb Space Tele­scope dis­cov­ers an amper­sand in anoth­er galaxy we’ll change it, once again, to Uni­verse Amper­sand Day.

National Ampersand Day logo type specs

*A typogram is the delib­er­ate use of typog­ra­phy to express an idea visu­al­ly, such as “adddi­tion” &UPPER&lowercase.” The above ren­dered “SEPTEMBER 8” would be a true typogram if it spelled “AMPERSAND” with amper­sands, but since there’s no term for spelling a date with amper­sands we’ll call this a typogram & get away with it, since it does visu­al­ly express what the date stands for. Or call it a pic­togram or hiero­glyph­ics if you wish.

How do you celebrate World Ampersand Day?

Cel­e­brate World Amper­sand Day by hav­ing fun with it!

&  Use lots & lots of ampersands.

&  Sub­sti­tute “&” for “and” in every­thing you write.

&  Think of syl­la­ble replace­ments such as &roid, c&elabra, b&.

&  Send friends whose names con­tain “and” a spe­cial note — &y (“Andy”), &rea, Alex&er, Gr&ma.

&  Design new styles of amper­sands. (Remem­ber, the amper­sand rep­re­sents the let­ters “et.”)

&  Throw an amper­sand par­ty & make up amper­sand games.

&  Use #Amper­sand­Day & #Amper­Art on social media.

&  Tell your friends to check out Amper​Art​.com. Sub­scribe to get a new Amper­Art poster every month. It’s fun & fab­u­lous & free!

What if your birthday is Sept. 8?

&  If World Amper­sand Day falls on your birth­day, Sep­tem­ber 8, throw an amper­sand birth­day par­ty with an amper­sand cake & par­ty favors & amper­sand games. A list of games, gifts & favors is in the works. Sub­scribe so you don’t miss it.

What if a friend’s birthday is Sept. 8?

&  Send any­one whose birth­day is Sep­tem­ber 8 this Hap­py Birth­day link:

&  Give or mail them an amper­sand birth­day card which you can print here:

&  Throw them an amper­sand birth­day par­ty. A list of games, gifts & favors is in the works. Sub­scribe so you don’t miss it.

What does &c. mean?

&” is for “et,” & “c.” is for “cetera.”
“Et” is Latin for “and.”
“Cetera” is Latin for “the others.”
Et cetera.

What does U&lc mean?

UPPER & low­er case, as in cap­i­tal & non-​capital let­ters. The prop­er terms, though not heard much any­more, are “majus­cule” & “minus­cule.”

The terms “upper case” & “low­er case” orig­i­nat­ed in the ear­ly days of hand-​set type where each char­ac­ter was cast on a sep­a­rate piece of met­al & stored in shal­low draw­ers known as cas­es. Fre­quent­ly there were two cas­es (draw­ers) for each font, one placed on top of the oth­er while com­posit­ing type. The upper case con­tained the majus­cules. The low­er case con­tained the minuscules.

This illus­tra­tion has the cas­es reversed — low­er­case is on top — to clear­ly show the var­i­ous sizes of box­es indi­vid­ual com­part­ments need­ed to accom­mo­date the quan­ti­ty of each low­er­case let­ter used for the aver­age com­po­si­tion. (The upper­case com­part­ments are all the same size.) There are more “e“s used in the Eng­lish lan­guage than any oth­er let­ter, hence “e” is stored in the largest compartment.

Our friend the amper­sand is stored in the upper case (bot­tom in this illus­tra­tion), near the low­er right cor­ner: bot­tom row & sec­ond box in.

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