About the ampersand

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What exactly is an ampersand?

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

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” & 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 National 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 Nation­al Amper­sand Day logo. Here’s what that looks like, designed by Chaz DeS­i­mone & reg­is­tered with Nation­al Day Cal­en­dar in 2015:

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 National Ampersand Day?

Cel­e­brate Nation­al 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 Nation­al 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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18 thoughts to “About the ampersand”

  1. Are you famil­iar with “Ands & Amper­sands” by Fred­er­ic W. Goudy? It was a 1936 Christ­mas keep­sake of “The Typophiles.” If not, I high­ly rec­om­mend you look up a copy. They are rare and dif­fi­cult to find. Because of that, I am inves­ti­gat­ing the pos­si­bly of reprint­ing (let­ter­press of course) 250 or 500 copies. The RIT Cary Col­lec­tion has the orig­i­nal type of the head­ings and the 60 orig­i­nal amper­sands used to show them all. This was set by Fred Goudy and his close friend, Howard Cogge­shall. I will use this type pro­vid­ing we can get grants to pay for reset­ting the body copy in Mono­type to match the orig­i­nal. Would you be inter­est­ed in act­ing as a spon­sor?

  2. Thanks for all this! I used to set met­al type at Phi­la. Col­lege of Art (1960’s) now U of Arts and trea­sured the result. Would love to do that again. Do lots of graph­ics still but am real­ly a sculp­tor of “stuff” from “stuff.” And love the expres­sion “nifty!”

  3. Chaz, thank you so much for stop­ping by our face­book page, Trixy King Rex. We all thought it was a total blast that the cre­ator of a hol­i­day com­ment­ed. Our joy was expressed in com­ments & the sub­se­quent post. I & my furiends great­ly appre­ci­ate it.

  4. thanks for bring­ing a smile to my day, today 98.…’&’- day : O )…

    you see, my dad was a print­er for the new york times for many years (1960’s-​early 70’s)
    up until com­put­er­i­za­tion replaced ‘old fash­ioned’ hand set print around 1974…

    i remem­ber 2 of his favorite things about the print world was telling me about
    the word and char­ac­ter ‘amper­sand’ and the word ‘typo’…lots of sil­ly gig­gles… : O )

    1. Robin, I’m going through com­ments today. I real­ly appre­ci­ate yours. For some rea­son I have always found print­ers to be a warm, fun-​loving sort, and I bet your dad brought home some won­der­ful sto­ries (and aro­mas of the press­room). I’ve been both a typog­ra­ph­er and hand let­ter­ing artist. Recent­ly they were both brought back into my realm of cre­ativ­i­ty and pas­sion when my best friend asked me to restore & re-​create titles for his silent films. Here’s a lit­tle about that: http://​www​.silentcin​e​maso​ci​ety​.org/​t​i​t​l​es/ Are you in the cre­ative field as well? Any ink under the fin­ger­nails? Please stay in touch, Robin: chaz@​desimonedesign.​com

  5. This is so cool to know! Thank you! I stum­bled across this very infor­ma­tive page while search­ing Pin­ter­est for exam­ples of hand­writ­ten amper­sand types. After ver­i­fy­ing the info I learned on your page, I’ve been shar­ing fever­ish­ly with every­one I know! LOL. Is that dorky or what??

    1. Michelle, I’m going through my vis­i­tors’ com­ments today and there are a few that are sparkling. Yours is one. Feel free to ask me any­thing about amper­sands (or typog­ra­phy & let­ter­ing in gen­er­al) — chaz@​desimonedesign.​com. THANK YOU for shar­ing with every­one! I hope to reach lots more peo­ple who I’m sure are “amper­fans.” And is that dorky? I hope so — I was the class dork, nerd, square, weirdo, you name it. And proud of it.

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