I'm reading When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It: The Parts of Speech, for Better and/or Worse, the new book by language maven Ben Yagoda. (Yagoda is a frequent contributor to Slate.com; his most recent column is a very entertaining consideration of the Internet-popularized interjections "awwa," "meh," "feh," and "heh.") In a post here last week, I'd mused about "and" and the symbols that represent it, so I was tickled to see Yagoda's own witty take on the subject:
Something about and--probably its utter indispensability--has made it prone to being represented by other means than just the standard three letters. The plus sign is a favorite of instant messagers, note takers, hip-hop songwriters, conglomerates (Gulf + Western), and people demonstrating eternal love by carving their initials into trees. A little more elegant is the ampersand (&), which dates from the first century and is a ligature, or combination, of the letters e and t (and in Latin) into a single symbol. It was included in systems of typography starting in the fifteenth century, and ever since has been the character into which a type designer can inject the most artistic flair. The word "ampersand" didn't come into being until the nineteenth century. At that time & was customarily taught as the twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet and pronounced "and." When schoolchildren recited their ABCs, they concluded with the words "and, per se [i.e., by itself], 'and.'" This eventually became corrupted to "ampersand." The symbol is a favorite of law and architecture firms, and is invaluable in parsing screenplay credits. For example, the script for the 1989 ampersand-titled film Turner & Hooch is credited to "Dennis Shyrack & Michael Blodgett and Daniel Petrie Jr. and Jim Cash & Jack Epps Jr." This is not the result of haphazard typography. Rather, following Writers Guild of America guidelines, it indicates that Messrs. Shyrack and Blodgett and Messrs. Cash and Epps worked as teams, and that they and Mr. Petrie each contributed separate drafts of the screenplay. A good rule of thumb is that the more ampersands in the credits, the crummier the movie.
Image: ITC Fonts.