About Me
The Manifesto

Previous Posts

The Hobbitification of America
Of points and picas
The "special assignment" plural apostrophe-S
Well, in Proto-Indo-European...
(Within ten feet of this cube)
Proximity misconjugation
And stoves will be called "kenmores"
Lies, damned lies, and etymologies
On mispelling

Back to Main


My del.ic.ious site feed


Common Errors in English
Netvibes RSS Reader
Online Etymology Dictionary
Research and Documentation
The Phrase Finder
The Trouble with EM 'n EN

A Capital Idea
Arrant Pedantry
Bradshaw of the Future
Bremer Sprachblog
Dictionary Evangelist
Double-Tongued Dictionary
English, Jack
Futility Closet - Language
Language Hat
Language Log
Mighty Red Pen
Motivated Grammar
OUPblog - Lexicography
Style & Substance
The Editor's Desk
The Engine Room
Tenser, said the Tensor
Watch Yer Language
Word Spy
You Don't Say

Dan's Webpage

Website XML feed

& then there was &
Thursday, May 17, 2007   1:28 PM

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 from Punch:

Any odd shape folks understand
To mean my Protean amperzand.

Labels: ,

Leave a Comment

Think reactive, not reactionary