The Suitcase Lady


February 10, 2009, 10:57 pm

I am a fan of ampersands (&), those flamboyant little symbols that fill in for the word “and”.

Shunning secretarial classes in high school, I was not formally introduced to the ampersand until I started doing graphic design. I was smitten. Even the word is fun to say.

Ampersands have been around since Roman times; however, the name is more recent. After perusing numerous web sites, the following history is the clearest. Be a bit patient, the explanation is convoluted.

 The name “ampersand” certainly sounds as if it should mean something terribly exotic, coined in the misty yesteryear of typography, but its roots are actually quite humble, and we have the long-suffering schoolchild to thank for the word.  It comes from the practice once common in schools of reciting all 26 letters of the alphabet plus the “&” sign, pronounced “and,” which was considered part of the alphabet, at least for learning purposes.

Any letter that could also be used as a word in itself (“A,” “I,” “&” and, at one point, “O”) was preceded in the recitation by the Latin phrase “per se” (“by itself”) to draw the students’ attention to that fact.  Thus the end of this daily ritual would go: “X, Y, Z and per se and.”  This last phrase was routinely slurred to “ampersand” by children rightly bored to tears, and the term crept into common English usage by around 1837.  Courtesy of The Word Detective May 2003

When choosing a typeface, I always check out the ampersand first. That symbol is often a wee showcase for font designer’s creativity.

A small gallery of ampersands with a decidedly romantic bent follows. Happy Valentines Day!


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2 Comments for this entry

  • eve

    I have a dear friend–she writes picture books–we’re in the same critique group–who unfortunately does not appreciate the ampersand. (I use them often in my picture-book mss.) I’m wondering if there’s a way for me to share your brilliant ampersand observations on facebook? Or is there a way for me to print this out??? (I suspect not.) At any rate, I await your advice. And BTW the lovely glass shards we found last year have found a home in a little antique jar my son gave me recently. xxxevie

  • eve

    Mary–Ha! Good old Control-P!!!