THE AMPERSAND

WRITTEN BY ROD WYLLIE, CREATIVE DIRECTOR

 

THE AMPERSAND

Recently I had an interesting conversation with my aunt, whose varied linguistic career involved working at world-famous publishers Harper Collins and as a member of staff within the English language department at Glasgow University. Bringing up the subject of one of my own personal bugbears, I flippantly asked her thoughts on the ampersand and how she would use it in the written context. After some initial discussion around ‘Rock & Roll’, ‘Dolce & Gabanna’ and the ambiguous ‘Lennon & McCartney’ (Lennon-McCartney to be correct), we digressed to her own personal vendetta, the misuse of the apostrophe, a topic which she was adamant kept her awake at night.

Amongst some more obscure and peculiar examples, what we did ultimately agree on was that these small, simple, established, grammatical rules; rules that used to be part of English language education, were slipping away from everyday language use with the communication dominance of email, SMS and social media. Rightly or wrongly, this generates problems in the business world as presentations, pitches, CVs, brand guidelines, to name a few, start to become a minefield of random punctuation, incorrect grammar, stray capitalisation and good old bad English.

Yes, we live in a fast moving, informal, relaxed world, but if you, as the client, are looking to hire someone to handle your social media, marketing or design, you need to be sure that they present your brand, product or company in the best way possible and ultimately, that is on the screen, printed or written page. More often than not it is the detail that marks the difference between good and great, and being able to pay attention and take care with simple rules of language, grammar and typography should be something that all of us, in the world of media, carry out as a matter of course.

Mother & Child logo designed by Herb Lubalin and Tom Carnase in 1965.

 

To revert to our original topic of discussion and our old friend, the ampersand (&), a much-used and abused character in the English language whose history is almost as interesting as its transformation into a symbol of soft furnishing LED heaven. Its shape evolved from the Latin word ‘et’, meaning ‘and’.  When this was handwritten by Roman scribes the two letters were joined together into a ligature that then became recognised as a standard character or ‘glyph’. This then evolved into the shape we know today, although with certain typefaces the original ‘et’ ligature can be seen more clearly.

Of equal interest is the story behind how this character got its name. In the early 19th century, school children were taught the alphabet with the addition of ‘&’ at the end after the letter Z, and told that the character stood separately from the rest of the letters by itself, or in Latin, ’per se’. Reciting ‘X, Y, Z and, by itself (per se), and’ over and over again, soon evolved to become ‘X, Y, Z ampersand’.

As to its usage, in this day and age I suppose this should now be deemed subjective, but there are a few basic rules to follow. Firstly, the ampersand should never be substituted for the word ‘and’ unless space is an issue or it is being used as a graphic device or for a particular reason. It can be used for business names which are formed from a partnership of two or more people such as ‘H & M’, ‘Marks & Spencer’ and ’Bang & Olufsen.’ Credits for stories and screenplays use ‘&’ to indicate that the writers have collaborated together and when listing sources on a document, the ampersand can be used when multiple authors are listed. Then of course we have the shorthand phrases linking two connected items - ‘rhythm & blues’, ’peaches & cream’, ‘salt & pepper’, ’s & m’.

The ampersand is a useful little friend that is very often a beautifully crafted typograhical character - consider how you use it and use it to your advantage.

Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) designed by Alan Fletcher in 1990.
Bang & Olufsen logo designed by Henning Dahl-Mikkelsen in 1931.

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