My Ampersand Addiction
I might be a little obsessed with ampersands. At least, according to my daughter I am. She pointed out the other day that there are seven ampersands in our living room alone, eight if you count my forearm tattoo. OK, point taken.
Why am I, and many other graphic designers around the world, so enamored of this typographic symbol? Perhaps it’s because it comes in so many varying forms, from the flowing script version to the inverse 3 shape. Or it could be the movement of graceful lines that so elegantly tell such a simple story: and. To me it seems like a succinct logo design that understands beautifully the importance of both positive and negative space.
As fascinated as I am with the symbol, I realized I knew little about its graphic origin. Why does it look the way it does? Here is the short and sweet version of the history of the ampersand:
The character & derives from a symbol that was used in place of the Latin word et, which also means "and." It was common practice to add the "&" sign at the end of the alphabet as if it were the 27th letter, pronounced as the Latin et or later in English as and. As a result, the recitation of the alphabet would end in "X, Y, Z,and per se and". This last phrase was routinely slurred to "ampersand" and by 1827 the term had entered common English usage.
The ampersand mark itself can be traced back to the 1st century A.D. and the Old Roman cursive in which the letters E and T occasionally were written together to form a ligature (a joining together of two letter forms into one). In the later and more flowing New Roman Cursive, ligatures of all kinds were extremely common. During the development of the Latin script that led up to the Carolingian minuscule (9th century) the use of ligatures in general diminished. The et-ligature, however, continued to be used and gradually became more stylized and less revealing of its actual origin.
It’s that stylization, that personality of letter form that I so enjoy. Some of my favorite ampersands include the gracefully curving American Typewriter, the strength and solidity of Eames Bold Italic, the clean lines of Helvetica and the playful grace of House Industries' Worthe.
So you may feel that I have an ampersand addiction. I like to think of it as an appreciation for good typographic design.