& then there was &
Thursday, May 17, 2007
During some punctuation-related geekery yesterday — started when one of my coworkers accurately observed that semicolons are awesome — someone buttonholed me to talk about the origin of the ampersand.
By sheer coincidence, I'd looked up ampersand
last week after wondering if there were any limits to the use of the ampersand in informal written English. Short of trying to begin a sentence with it, which you just can't do, the ugliest usage I could come up with was sticking it between an Oxford comma and the final item in a list. Personally I wouldn't use it outside of signage or a name.
Apparently, in old school books &
was appended at the end of the alphabet. The symbol didn't have a proper name (?), but it stood for and
, so it was called per se and
. That is: the symbol which in and of itself stands for and
. Eventually the words ran together and corrupted.
The Wikipedia article
on the ampersand is fairly informative, as per usual, and Adobe has an interesting intro
written from a more design-oriented perspective. Speaking of typography
, the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1898)
has a nice little quote
Any odd shape folks understand
To mean my Protean amperzand.
Labels: etymology, punctuation
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