History and Usage of the Ampersand

One of the most beautiful of symbols in our Latin-based written language is the ampersand. It can be sexy and curvy with sensuous thicks and thins, or a solid and strong single-thickness glyph. The ampersand is one of the few letterforms that allows for more creativity and interpretation in its design than most others, which have more rigid guidelines. For this reason, they are frequently a highlighted element in a logo or word mark.

The ampersand is a representation of the word and. It is actually a ligature that combines an e and a t from the Latin word et, meaning “and”. The word “ampersand” is an alteration of the phrase “et, per se and” (that is: “et by itself [means] and”), which was then became “and, per-se and”, and eventually evolved into ampersand. Once the ampersand glyph was accepted as a single character, it evolved into a more flowing design.

The invention of the ampersand is usually credited to Marcus Tullius Tiro, who was the faithful slave and secretary to the Roman lawyer and politician Cicero. Tiro invented a shorthand writing system in 63 B.C. called Tironian Notes, which included the ampersand.

The evolution of the ampersand. (Google images)

There are two basic forms of the ampersand, with many variations of both: the traditional, classic double counter version (&), and the style that looks more like an E or an et, sometimes with the addition of curves and flourishes. It is common for an upright, Roman typeface version to have the first style, with its companion italics switching to the second, more calligraphic version. Most fonts have just one ampersand, but with the expanded character set of the OpenType font format, some contain two or more versions, occasionally including a small cap ampersand that is designed to match their shorter height.

Adobe Garamond Premier Pro has five different ampersand glyphs for both the Roman (upper) and the Italic version (lower).

Ampersand Usage

Although the ampersand is a representation of the word and, it should not be used willy-nilly to replace the spelled out form when setting type, especially in running text. Save it for more prominent instances, such as headlines, subheads, and other display settings, titles, company, business and retail names (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.), branding and logos, as well as connecting two related words in a list (blues, jazz, and rock & roll).

Never substitute the ampersand for the word “and” in running text.

When using an ampersand with small caps, check to see if the font has a small cap version, which will match the height of the small caps instead of the caps.

Don’t change the ampersand glyph in a company name or logo to the written out version.

As mentioned earlier, many company names and logos contain an ampersand. When they appear, they can be designed to be unobtrusive and match the rest of a work mark or logo, or they can be highlighted in some way to stand out for a more customized appearance. Ampersands can also be used oversized, or separated from the text as a decorative or illustrative graphic element. Herb Lubalin, the iconic designer who was known for this technique, often played with ampersands in headlines and logos.

The owner of this ice cream shop must be a typophile!

The new logo for this magazine now includes an ampersand.

Herb Lubalin created this excerpt from U&lc magazine around the ampersand. Illustration by Marvin Matterson.

This logo for a never published magazine is purported to have been one of Lubalin’s favorite designs.

When you want to add a bit of creativity to a design or a setting with an ampersand, be sure to check out the available versions in any font you are considering. Time spent on this important font exploration might well lead to an eye-catching, recognizable, and even iconic design.

Can you find the ampersand in these logos?

Posted on: March 28, 2018

Ilene Strizver

Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer, writer and educator specializing in all aspects of visual communication, from the aesthetic to the technical. Her book, Type Rules! The designer’s guide to professional typography, 4th edition, has received numerous accolades from the type and design community.

5 Comments on History and Usage of the Ampersand

  1. Ah, my favorite character!

  2. Celtic Design Illuminated Letters by Aidan Meehan features chapters on Decorated ampersands and animal ampersands.

  3. Ilene Strizver’s columns are among my very favorites. Always something to pique the interest and always something to learn.

  4. Great article Ilene!

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