The surprising truth about the ampersand symbol

(Image credit: Getty)

It's a symbol you probably see every day, but it turns out the humble ampersand is more than just a pretty piece of typography. This weekend, we revisit the history of ampersand – and the time that designers had their minds blown by it last year.

For those not familiar with the technical word 'ampersand', it's this '&' symbol, commonly used as shorthand for 'and'. Designers had their minds blown earlier this year when the below tweet was shared, informing everyone of the true meaning of the ampersand. (If you'd like to try out the ampersand in a range of different fonts, check out the best free fonts around). Ready for the fact? Okay, here we go...

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Editor and author Sarah Pappalardo explained the secret behind the symbol with a tweet that has sparked astonishment in the Twitter world. She pointed out that the ampersand is a ligature (a combination of two or more graphemes tied together, if you're not in the know), for the word 'et'.   

Reactions on Twitter saw people sharing when they first found this out (those clever clogs are very much in the minority, though, we have to say).

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Other notable ligatures include those representing 'ae' and 'oe', but we reckon there are none so well-known and visible as the ampersand. Another interesting nugget is that the symbol used to come at the end of the alphabet, making it a character in its own right that children would recite up until the 1800s. You can find out even more in the below video. Who knew there was so much to discover about the curly 'and' symbol?

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Daniel Piper
Senior News Editor

Daniel Piper is Creative Bloq’s Senior News Editor. As the brand’s Apple authority, he covers all things Mac, iPhone, iPad and the rest. He also reports on the worlds of design, branding and tech. Daniel joined Future in 2020 (an eventful year, to say the least) after working in copywriting and digital marketing with brands including ITV, NBC, Channel 4 and more. Outside of Future, Daniel is a global poetry slam champion and has performed at festivals including Latitude, Bestival and more. He is the author of Arbitrary and Unnecessary: The Selected Works of Daniel Piper (Selected by Daniel Piper).