Brainfood: The Ampersand

November 11, 2013

Today…I would like to talk about the ampersand. Well, more particularly, the origin of the ampersand. I know…weird, huh? But as you may know, I am just a tad obsessed with linguistics (it was one of my majors), which means that random tangents on punctuation and such will happen here on occasion. Plus I haven’t shared a factoid with you in a while.

So, not too long ago I was playing around at—an incredibly useful site that helps you identify fonts you’d like to know the name of—and came across this question asking what the ampersand of a particular font looked like:

And suddenly…I saw where the ampersand came from. Do you see those two &s on the bottom left? Definitely “Et” smooshed together. And if you know Latin, you know that “Et” means ‘”and” (“et cetera,” anyone?) Take a look at the middle ampersand in my above graphic as well. Do you see what I mean?

That & is from Petit Formal Script, by the way. I think it’s my favorite one. Many serif typefaces exhibit this type of ampersand in their italic forms.

I need to stop getting so sidetracked in these blog posts.

So if you’d like to get fancy about it, you may now start calling the ampersand a ligature—when two or more letters are combined into a single glyph—of the “e” and “t” from Latin’s word for “and.”

And…this is what Wikipedia cites about it: ‘The word ampersand is a corruption of the phrase ‘and (&) per se and’, meaning ‘and (the symbol &) intrinsically (is the word) and‘.” I’ll let you unpack that sentence.

Here are some pretty ampersands to look at:

Love, Maurine

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  • Reply Ms. Maxwell November 12, 2013 at 2:20 am

    Finding the perfect ampersand is the Holy Grail of typography.

  • Reply Maurine Dashney November 12, 2013 at 2:34 am

    This is so helpful!

  • Reply Barbara Bakes November 13, 2013 at 9:04 pm

    I didn't know that about the ampersand. So fun. It was nice meeting you today.

  • Reply Maurine Dashney November 14, 2013 at 11:15 pm

    It was so great meeting you too. Love your blog!

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