When Should I Use an Ampersand?

The History of & and whether to use it

In formal business writing, unless the symbol is already in a name that you are writing about, avoid it. So if you want to write about M&Ms, Ben & Jerry’s, or A & W’s Root Beer (hungry yet?), use it. Otherwise, avoid it in professional (and academic) writing.

This is an ampersand

The ampersand symbol is a combination of the letters e and t, which came from et, which is Latin for “and.”

Two hundred years ago it was considered the 27th letter of the alphabet. When kids had to recite the alphabet, they would end it “X,Y,Z, and per se and.” People started to mumble those words together until “and per se and” eventually became ampersand.

The ampersand is making a comeback in informal writing. Type designers have fun designing variations on the traditional symbol. Web designers whose content is aimed toward a younger audience should consider using it.

Designers love the flexibility of the non-letter letter or the non-word word. The symbol opens up many possibilities. As designer Tobias Frere-Jones writes

“the ampersand is a beautiful and uncooperative creature, one we’re lucky to have inherited.”

If you are looking for a source of the symbol, check out the collection at Open Source Ampersands, a site dedicated to lovers of the symbol.

The hipsters love it.

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