Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Ampersand, &

AKA The 27th Letter
(basically just reposting Wikipedia)

This is a false-reveal of the ampersand conflation. The E and T are visible, but the implied origin, sans-stylization, is misleading in regards to the actual evolution of the ampersand character.
The Thing, SEEN
Ampersand - '&'. It means ‘and’, a -conjunction- of things. It means ‘to combine’, or more like a command to the reader to combine.

Visually, this symbol ‘&’ is a conflation of the letters ‘e’ and ‘t’, for the Latin et, or ‘and’. Firstly, it was joined to form a simple ligature, or combination of letters typically-found-together. But it further underwent a strange evolution under the influence of, primarily, scribes, typographers and typesetting technology. These people/things would abbreviate, combining letters together (like the ‘ae’ in aesthetics) to save time, space, and money. And it was under these conditions that the hyper-stylization of the letter/s-form gave it a life of its own, the combination having reached a point where the constituent letters could no longer be distinguished from each other. This is what makes a conflation.

&, The 27th Letter
source: My Own Primer, or First Lessons in Spelling and Reading. Carter, Rev. John  P. // Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1857
The Word, SPOKEN
As a word, ampersand is also a conflation. It was originally spoken/written as and per se and (which in itself is a combination of English-Latin-English, the Latin part of which, per se, means ‘in itself’…you can’t make this stuff up). The other word-letters of the alphabet were spoken I per se and A per se, and they were said that way to distinguish them as letters and not words (though their very distinguishing in this way made them words more than letters, in fact).

This time, it was through the copying mechanism of human speech that the ampersand was carried over multiple iterations, themselves being reinforced in children reciting the alphabet, and ending with ‘and’, the 27th letter, spoken ‘and per se and’, to distinguish it as a letter of the alphabet and not a word – andperseand became slurred and stuttered by its countless iterations until a stable ‘ampersand’ was reached. It doesn’t make any kind of sense how it got there; it is a conflation in this as well as its visual expression.

The Wrestling Ampersand
Slightly sideways now; the ampersand, both the word, and its symbol, stand for a combination of things – they are a combination and they stand for a combination. It’s put together like an abstract life form. It’s just uncanny how the ampersand’s meaning is inherent in its form. It’s completely artificial, and completely beautiful, and who designed it?

And so finally, the most triumphant expression of this thing is in our understanding of it. A mental-pretzeling, we wrestle with its recursions and meta-logic diversions. It is the expression of a mind trying to understand itself.


notice the ampersand variations
image: Nobiltà di dame […] Fabritio Caroso. Venetia. 1600.
via History:
"...different kinds were used to keep the page from blurring under the reader's eyes"; too many &'s on the page is hypnotic.
Artemy Lebedev, Ampersand, § 112. March 22, 2005

via Russia:
"Finding any mention of the sign in the pre-computer era literature is nearly impossible, because the use of ampersand in Cyrillic typesetting was very scant."

"There’s no need to use ampersand in Russian.
Because the Russian conjunction u (and) sounds and looks short enough (with “y”, the Spanish [and 'e' in Spanish and Portuguese] are the luckiest of the bunch). The author can’t recall an example when one intelligible and condensed symbol is replaced with a few symbols or even just a ligature."
Artemy Lebedev, Ampersand, § 112. March 22, 2005

via France:
Esperluette means 'ampersand' in French,
but they really call it 'le sign et', like how English calls '@' 'the at symbol'.

(I am only reading the French-wiki via 'translate', and what a nightmare it is to translate this particular topic.)
try translating to english and reading the discussion page

Esperluette underwent not identical but very similar development in France. Perhaps this can be a focus for studying the relative speed of idea-transmission at particular points in cultural evolution. Had printed writing been so prevalent in an older England/France as it is now, then the word for the thing-ampersand would not have been able to morph so easily.

Now it is fixed. If, for some reason, we were to incorporate 'theisthe' into our language today in the 21st century, it would not mutate the same (especially since the 'letter of the alphabet' for 'th' is no longer used)  However, it isn't used  in many other languages, examples given below. 

via Legend:
one appears in Pompeian graffiti, establishing the symbol at least as far back as A.D. 79 (we can just take this as legend).

via the Internet:
"Our Middle Name", 28 April, 2008
News, Notes, & Observations, Hoefler & Frere-Jones

The Ampersand, an ampersand blog

J. Tschichold and F. Plaat, The Ampersand: Its origin and development, London: Woudhuysen, 1957. <> Bibtex

The [Visual] Evolution of the Ampersand

FINAL NOTE, not for the faint of heart:
try writing an article such as this, and switching back and forth between 'HTML' and 'Compose' and watch what happens to all the &'s.


^You've never seen the ABCs look this bizarre and wonderful
Vincze Miklós io9
Feb 14, 2014

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