Some Notes on Ampersands

1. Language is an unstable and mercurial thing, in habitual need of deep-tissue massages to ease its interior life of tumult, tension and spasm.

2. Stranger & Stranger: read as nouns, a pair of strangers; read as adjectives, a qualitative increase in the uncanniness of a situation; read as a noun and an adjective, a singular stranger situated within ever-expanding, alien circumstances.

3. The ampersand is the product of one Marcus Tiro, slave and scribe of Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero. The story goes: after visiting Greece, Cicero was impressed by the Greek’s use of shorthand, something Latin lacked in the first century BCE. Cicero asked Tiro to devise a shorthand system for Latin and one of the glyphs he created—known as the Tironian “et”—was a reimagining of the Latin word “et,” meaning “and.”


The Tironian et


Tiro’s “et” was later adapted into a ligature combining the “e” and “t” letterforms. 


Graffiti of an ampersand in Pompeii, 79 CE


The evolution of the ampersand, by Jan Tschiold. Consulting the work of Paul Stand­ard and Fre­d­er­ic Goudy, Tschich­old charted the char­ac­ter’s iterations from 1st cen­tury to 19th cen­tury forms.


4. Designed by former Book Arts Program Creative Director David Wolske, the Stranger & Stranger ampersand is a grossly exaggerated figure, outwardly sprawling and anemic.


The ball terminals invoke a classical, humanistic touch, and so do the wispy curves and the deliberate foregrounding of the form of the ampersand as an admixture of “e” and “t.” Depending on how one reads the ampersand—let’s say as two nouns (note #2)—the title functions as a figure of separation as well as a figure of linkage. In so far as the ampersand refers to the conjunction “and,” it maintains its ground as a crossroads of connection between the strangeness shared by two strangers; in so far as the ampersand outstrips its linguistic signification and functions as something wholly pictorial and imagistic (note #7), it installs a barrier between strangers.  

5. When read as paired adjectives—(note #2)—the ampersand becomes a visual performance: its exaggerated form is an example of that which has become “stranger and stranger.” 

6. The ampersand resembles a vine, something floral, some wild kind of vegetative outgrowth, which works as a nod in the direction of O’Hare Ure’s painted habitats which shelter her beasts. Below is a type test that shows where O’Hare Ure’s painting will be positioned in relation to the text. In the mock-up, note how the red, “for placement only” illustrations are closely related to the line shape and thickness of the the ampersand. 


7. The ampersand foregrounds the central conflict of the imagined bestiary to come, establishing a strange blend and uneasy union of verbal and visual communication systems.

8. The ampersand does more than just replace the word “and.” Its functions and meanings are nuanced and varied: there are underpinnings of permanence and partnership operating here. Think how businesses and law firms employ the ampersand to signify enduring alliances, how the Writers Guild of America uses the mark to denote a solid partnership or strong collaboration between a group of writers on a script.

9. The Stranger & Stranger ampersand is a multidimensional trace—symbolic, indexical, iconographic. A written symbol representing the word “and,” it is iconographic in how it physically resembles what it stands for (blending e and t is a mimetic gesture that apes how “and” functions, i.e., it marks a point of connection). And, as an index—demonstrating correlation—the ampersand signals distance, separation and difference, constituent elements that preserve the very possibility of connection.


  • David Wolske
    Posted at 12:31h, 26 September Reply

    Fantastic post! I can’t wait to see the finished book. P.S. Goudy spelled his first name “Frederic” – no “k.”

  • Matthew Cooperman
    Posted at 03:13h, 07 October Reply

    A literate picture of a human form. And and and’ing the in between. Betwixt the torus & the sphere, the cave writing ongoing. Thanks, for this intricate tracery, Crane!

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