Is there any logogram as elegant as the ampersand?
It's no wonder we're still using this ancient ligature millennia after it first appeared. Thanks to texting and tweeting, it's more popular than ever. After all, why expend three precious characters on "and" when the ampersand can do the job in one?
In these informal communiqués, the ampersand is indeed most welcome. But it's not an all-purpose substitute for "and." In more formal modes, its use is proscribed to only a few circumstances.
We'll get to those, but first, a bit of etymology.
Saying "ampersand" is a pleasure (utter it aloud and you'll see what I mean); figuring out how we arrived at the word is another matter. I consulted various reference sources before landing at this lucid explanation, from the Word Detective (aka newspaper columnist Evan Morris):
It comes from the practice once common in schools of reciting all 26 letters of the alphabet plus the "&" sign, pronounced "and," which was considered part of the alphabet ... Any letter that could also be used as a word in itself ("A," "I," "&" and, at one point, "O") was preceded in the recitation by the Latin phrase "per se" ("by itself") to draw the students' attention to that fact. Thus the end of this daily ritual would go: "X, Y, Z and per se and." This last phrase was routinely slurred to "ampersand" ... and the term crept into common English usage by around 1837. The ampersand symbol itself [is] a stylized rendition of the Latin word "et," meaning, of course, "and."I routinely see ampersands — which, if you ask me, should be called "aNpersands" — where they don't belong. They don't belong in ad copy or direct mail. They don't belong in fundraising e-mails or annual reports. They don't belong in press releases or company profiles. They don't belong in resumes or cover letters. They don't belong on home pages or even in auto-responders. So where DO they belong?
According to the AP Stylebook: "Use the ampersand when it is part of a company's formal name: Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. The ampersand should not otherwise be used in place of and."
According to the lovely and talented Grammar Girl (aka the lovely and talented Mignon Fogarty, with whom I recently had a close, personal correspondence): "Most style guides recommend using the ampersand when the rest of the name is also an abbreviation (AT&T) and in common expressions (R&D)."
According to Wikipedia: "In both MLA [Modern Language Association] and APA [American Psychological Association] style, the ampersand is used when citing sources in text such as (Jones & Jones, 2005). In the list of references, an ampersand precedes the last author's name when there is more than one author."
According to the Writers Guild of America: "The word 'and' designates that the writers wrote separately and an ampersand (ì&î) denotes a writing team."
In addition to enjoying the curvilinear look and marvelous mouthfeel of the ampersand, I'm fond of the idea that "&" denotes a more intimate connection than "and." It seems fitting, then, that the ampersand be used sparingly, thus preserving its special status.
*Coding language doesn't count. Every dash you see in the "pages" of Editorializing, for instance, involves an HTML code introduced by an ampersand, but as this computer shorthand appears behind the scenes, it's out of the running.