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Dec 6 2012   8:26PM GMT

Do you use an ampersand in company names? Bonus: The fascinating history of the ampersand

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

 

Which is correct?
__________________ is promoting eBooks as “instant gifts.”
a. Barnes & Noble
b. Barnes and Noble


Answer: a.

Explanation:
Barnes & Noble uses the ampersand in its name so we do too. Some guides, like the Chicago Manual of Style, once advised changing ampersands in company names to “ands” but they’ve changed their minds.

This post was inspired by a fascinating article on ampersands on Dictionary.com. You’ll have to go read it to see everything that’s so fascinating about it, but here are a few choice facts:

  • The ampersand originated as cursive et, Latin for and, back in the first century.
  • It would be another millenium-and-a-half before the word ampersand was coined.
  • The ampersand was once the 27th letter of the alphabet, pronounced as “and per se and,” which devolved to “ampersand.”

***

Follow me on Twitter @tao_of_grammar

12  Comments on this Post

 
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  • twahlhowe
    Oh, I disagree with using the & sign.  Here's why...
    It has to do with modern computing.  I manage business accounts for the local Assessor, and some businesses use the ampersand.  However, including it in databases and other such records leads to big problems.  The ampersand, and other computer operators, sometimes trigger unwanted, automatic actions. For instance, a data conversion to a new computer system was viciously garbled everywhere there was an ampersand.  So, we do not use ampersands or pound signs # in our records any longer....
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  • FreshCoffee

    Get you point twahlhowe. I work in healthcare informatics, and one of the programs I work in does not like the ampersand at all. That said, I suppose we are talking about specific programs for very narrow functions. We as users should probably know what is allowable in the programs we use. Think these folks are talking about general communications between people at Xmas (know I'm not supposed to use that term, BUT TOUGH!).

    Brings me to my final point, that no one will read. I see that some of this stuff relies on "style guides" written, I'm assuming, by humans prone to subjective interpretations of what "should" and "shouldn't" be. DAMN IT TO HELL!!! I say!. Fight the power! Can't STAND it when some ninny tisk tisks others for failing to fight the natural progression of the english language. Unless you can come up with a logical, objective reason why one should or shouldn't write a certain way ('tis vs t'is makes perfect sense to me) then don't bother me.

     

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  • twahlhowe
    Love it, Fresh Coffee! Xmas is just fine...we have become too concerned with "proper" usage and terms to the detriment of our own good selves! General communications (especially since we communicate so much electronically...) should, in my humble opinion, reflect some of the personality of the writer. Not egregious errors, but everyday speech is welcome in my emails! Politically correct phrases have become a joke - either someone is publicly displaying their ignorance or their hypersensitivity. If we are really to understand each other, we need to quit fussing about the niceties of grammar and Talk and Laugh and Work and Play and just COMMUNICATE with each other!  In the very best of Xmas spirit...Merry Christmas to you all! New Year's resolution...make it a point to greet someone new each day. 
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  • FreshCoffee

    To you as well twahlhowe.

    I'll admit I'm feeling a tad guilty for using the word "ninny". No call for that. I just think that good, powerful, beautiful communication is an organic, ever-changing thing. I agree with you that when we are typing ot one another, we have to learn to express our true selves through our querty keyboard.

    Anyway, Happy Holiday Season and Merry New Year.

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  • martinsm
    a? why not b i had said b 
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  • Viper11
    Visit Barnes&Noble.com and BarnesAndNoble.com and see which one works.
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  • yodadadude
    Woops! To quote:
     "It would be another millenium-and-a-half before the word ampersand was coined."

    The correct spelling is "millennium". That's from Latin.

    The millenium began on Jan. 1, 2000
    The millennium began on Jan. 1, 2001

    I've long wondered whether the Millenium Hotel's name was intentionally misspelled, or whether they had received their letterheads, the first shipment of towels marked with that spelling, the name above the entrance was installed, &c., and somebody decided it was too late to correct it. I like to try to keep track of company names that are misspelled, but probably can't recall all of them. Probably the best known is Symantec. It was named for "semantics".

    One our major streets is Waverley Oaks Road. On that road is a building hospitable to many small businesses, and a good number of them adopt "Waverley" into their company names, or try to. Maybe roughly half of those have names with "Waverly" in them. Both spellings are correct, in general.

    We're witnessing a dichotomy in English between that of, say, The New Yorker magazine and what I like to call Popular English. The latter uses spellings and grammar determined by consensus. Baby boomers and younger, even if they spell really well, generally misspell the verbs "lose" as "loose", and "breathe" as "breath". They're likely to regard "alot" as a correct spelling. There's far more to Popular English than just these, though. your reply...
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  • yodadadude
    Concerning twahlhowe's reply about ampersands causing massive corruption, that seems like a consequence of limited literacy on the part of the creators of the new software. Were they truly literate, they would have known that some company names are correctly spelled only with the ampersand.

    Those who have used Unix command lines might have something to say about multiword filenames with embedded spaces. I'm just about certain that a few decades ago, such filenames created wildly corrupted commands, and it was mandatory to escape spaces, as in "file\ name". You'll note the total absence of spaces in URLs; instead of escaping them, you see "%20", signifying the hexadecimal character code. One could say that "context is everything".

    Computer people are not typically famed for their literacy. Witness the spelling "compatable", which seems by consensus among computer people to be correct; ditto, "kernal", which was the de facto standard at Commodore-Amiga. Donald Knuth knows better.

    Moreover, Computer Science as a practical matter is downright sloppy regarding units of measurement. The rest of the world's scientists and engineers are exceptionally careful. Millibits ("mb") is very commonplace, making sense, somewhat, only in context of a tiny fraction of the duration of one bit time in serial data. One might say that 8,000 mb are needed to represent one printable character in typical English, but, bits are atomic. (No, not nuclear. Keep the Greek origin of that word in mind.)

    Millihertz ("mhz", correctly "mHz") is legitimate in seismology and infrasound, but nonsensical regarding typical frequencies in computer electronics.

    Then, sloppy usage regarding "b" vs. "B" is rife. We used to see mentions of, say, 100 [megabit] (or millibit!) hard drives.

    I do hope that eventually, professors of Computer Science will learn to spell and use correct units of measurement, in which correct capitalization is utterly mandatory.

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  • Olivia775
    Why do a quiz no one will know the answers.
     
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  • FreshCoffee
    Olivia775: My big thing is why do a quiz when who cares what the "correct" answer is?
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  • JohnInTronna
    My friend and I were discussing that just the other day at A and W.
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  • twahlhowe
    As usual, answers are not concrete. The best answers are the ones that apply to your particular circumstance, and there are several ways to do anything "right". Yodadude, I am speaking of a consequence that occurred on my program, in the real world. You had a lot to say, but didn't really say much of anything. Harsh, maybe. But I most appreciate answers that provide a solution. 
    And yes...the program conversion that failed miserably was an older version, but we are busy cleaning up our files in case this happens in our next conversion, scheduled for December 2015. Ounce of prevention....
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