Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Word about Ampersands

You know what they are: the & sign. I see them misused everywhere and the time has come for me to step up and stamp my foot.

Using "&" in place of "and" is not the same!

You read me right, don't do that. It doesn't mean "and" in the sense of "I made myself a peanut butter & jelly sandwhich." Stop it! It's lazy and incorrect!

In general, ampersands are used:
  • In company names, such as Hughes & McLeith Accountants
  • In artistic endeavors, such as in a logo (see below for design considerations)
  • In some academic references, such as Phillips & Collins, 2003
And sometimes:
  • When space constraints are an issue, such as files & uploads, except use caution here since you're essentially using the ampersand as "and." I personally would re-word or make the space bigger to avoid doing this.
As Wikipedia says, the ampersand is considered a logogram. Essentially this means: don't use it as a replacement of a word.

Wikipedia (which, yes, I know isn't supposed to be taken as the final word on matters, but in fact it's well written for the most part and well-edited, so yes, I'm going to go ahead and believe what it says here. I also find Wikipedia extremely accurate when I edit the pages, but that is another matter) says:

The word ampersand is a corruption of the phrase "and >per se and", meaning "and [the symbol which] by itself [is] and". The Scots and Scottish English name for & is epershand, derived from "et per se and", with the same meaning.

Traditionally, in English-speaking schools when reciting the alphabet, any letter that could also be used as a word in itself ("A," "I," and, at one point, "O") was preceded by the Latin expression "per se" (Latin for "by itself"). Also, it was common practice to add at the end of the alphabet the "&" sign, pronounced "and". Thus, the recitation of the alphabet would end in: "X, Y, Z and per se and." This last phrase was routinely slurred to "ampersand" and the term crept into common English usage by around 1837.

At the least, using an ampersand in place of "and" says the writer is lazy and can't be bothered to write out the three letters that make up "and." You're not lazy. I know this. So do us a favor and don't use it like that.

Design Considerations
The ampersand is actually a stunningly beautiful piece of typography. Observe its range:

Look at those curves and swoops! Gorgeous! Please--celebrate the ampersand in this way, but not in your manuscript, not in your e-mails, not in any kind of written anything. Thank you.


Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

Learn something new every day. :) Thanks.

You have a little gift over at my blog. :)

T. Anne said...

Great lesson. What's the deal with the funny looking amperstand that sometimes shows up in blogger posts in place of letters? Have I totally confused you yet? lol. I'm following you now, hopped over from Roni's blog =)

melane said...

I never knew that...thanks for sharing.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Thanks T. Anne! Thanks Roni!

I think the ampersand showing up in place of letters is a translation problem, usually between programs. In HTML, it is often used to denote a space. I see it a lot in PDFs when downloaded--if the file name of the PDF has a space in it, Adobe Acrobat (or whatever) sticks an & in it.

Travener said...

OK, I promise not to use an ampersand in novels, short stories, columns, e-mails, & cetera...

Sierra Godfrey said...

Travener did you enter this month's Secret Agent? Saw a comment by you.

Tina Lynn said...

I'm only lazy when it comes to things like dishes and laundry.

Travener said...

No, I didn't enter Secret Agent. I prefer eviscerating other people's work to having my own disemboweled.

Lynnette Labelle said...

Great post! Roni sent me over.

Lynnette Labelle

Sierra Godfrey said...

Welcome Lynnette! Glad to have you!

Jennifer Shirk said...

Oooh! Good to know!

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