The Month of the Ampersand
Greetings! During the month of September, I’m dedicating all creative props to the “ampersand” or “and” sign. This quirky little iconic symbol has more orientations that any other letter in the western alphabet. So, in tribute to this marvelous swirl, I’m calling on all admirers of the little gem to step and show your love. But first, let me acquaint you with our guest of honor.
The Boring Part
An ampersand (&), also commonly called an ‘and sign’, is a logo-gram representing the conjunction “and“. The symbol is a ligature of the letters in et, Latin for “and“. The word ampersand is a corruption of the phrase “and per se and”, meaning “and [the symbol which] by itself [is] and”. The Scots and Scottish English name for & is epershand, derived from “et per se and“, with the same meaning.
Evolution of the Ampersand
- Old Roman cursive, reed pen, 131 AD.
- New Roman cursive, middle of 4th century.
- New Roman cursive, ca 346 AD.
- From a manuscript (St. Hilarius), before 509.
- From a manuscript (St. Maximus), 7th century.
- Carolingian minuscule, 810.
The ampersand can be traced back to the first century A.D. and the Old Roman cursive, in which the letters E and T occasionally were written together to form a ligature (figure 1). In the later and more flowing New Roman Cursive, ligatures of all kinds were extremely common; figure 2 and 3 from the middle of 4th century are both examples of how the et-ligature could look in this script. However, during the following development of the Latin script that lead up to the Carolingian minuscule (9th century), while the use of ligatures in general diminished, the et-ligature continued to be used and gradually became more stylized and less revealing of its origin (figures 4–6).
The main surviving use of the ampersand is in the formal names of businesses. When the ampersand forms part of a registered name (e.g. Brown & Watson), it should not be replaced with and. With the growth of mobile phone usage and text messaging, the ampersand is gaining new use in SMS language both as a representation for the word “and” and in rebus form, such as “pl&” in place of the word “planned”. The ampersand is also often used when addressing an envelope to a couple: “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” or “John & Jane”.