The Amperclef (or, Why I Don’t Write Ampersands)

I have nothing against the ampersand. In fact, I think it’s one of the most interesting characters in all of typography—it may even be my favorite. Even the etymology of its name is a story worth telling. The problem is, it’s too similar to the treble clef:

Just as a speed skater might misjudge a turn then careen and career out of bounds, the initial tendency to curve the first downstroke to the left—reinforced by years of writing treble clefs—rather than to the right, is nearly impossible to resist while in the heat of writing. The sheer force-of-will required of me to correctly render this character—which even at my most successful could only (generously) be described as an amperclef—has caused me to all but abandon it.

It’s a pity, because I truly admire the ampersand. Perhaps I’ll be able to better serve it by not attempting to write it.

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9 Responses to The Amperclef (or, Why I Don’t Write Ampersands)

  1. Andy Welfle says:

    So true! I have no opportunity to really write a treble clef, but I do have difficulty with the traditional ampersand. My mother, a long-time kindergarten teacher, just writes a “+”, as in “Me + You”.

    Over the years, I’ve adapted the little “E” glyph with a vertical line through it. Like so. I don’t know if that’s correct, but I’ve definitely seen it before, and it seems widely accepted.


  2. memm says:

    The amperclef does sound very interesting. Could it become some new symbol for musical notation (Prelude amperclef fugue)? 8^)

    Andy’s little E with the vertical line looks “traditionally American” to me. I think I have only seen it written this way in documents from North America.

    Another alternative to the “normal” modern ampersand could be to write it closer to its original form “Et” or “et”, that can also look very nice.


    • Sean says:

      “…Prelude amperclef fugue”

      Very nice!

      Unfortunately, properly bending that descender is impossible — even were it a spoon and I was Yuri Geller. I have at times defaulted to the “e-persand” as Andy illustrated, but, it just isn’t the same. 🙂

      added: Maybe I should have called the post: “The Ampersand: A Spoon Too Far” (or, “…A Spoon Too Hard) 🙂


  3. shallnot says:

    This brought to mind the ampersand a day for 365 days blog of a couple years ago: Surely there you will find an ampersand that doesn’t conflict with a treble clef?


  4. Jasper says:

    I also have officially adopted the ‘e-persand’ in my handwriting over the past decade, although I am always anxious to employ the original when typing computer documents… As much as i love the character, the ampersand has just proven too awkward when scribbling at high speed, and there seems to be an acceptable enough variety of e-persands that I don’t get too bored with it. I myself have never had the issue of confusing the clef & the &, as there’s an ease to the kind of double downstroke deriving from the pointed apex that the ampersand just doesn’t have, since I draw it in one single loopy stroke. As regards the e-persand, I would be interested to find out if this character has it own official name, and where and when it actually was first used.


    • Sean says:

      It’s good to know I’m not the only one, Jasper 🙂 One of the things that I like about the ampersand is how it is represented by so many different types of glyphs, including the “e-persand”. My guess is that rather than having a separate name, the e-persand is just another glyph that falls under the umbrella of “ampersand”.

      It could be worse though. Another favorite of mine is “thorn” ( þ ), which looks so much like a lowercase “p” that were it in standard use today I’m sure there would be all kinds of confusion.


  5. Gunther says:

    I like the ampersand and its variety too, and with some fonts it is the only character in the whole set I enjoy. – Yet another link:


  6. Emily Sesso says:

    This is five years old but I so passionately agree, I must comment.


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