Ampersands: Pretty Is As Pretty Does
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson
I just updated the second edition of The Frugal Editor because I wanted to warn my readers against one other writers’ affectation similar to the ones already in the first edition. That is overuse of ampersands. This little section covers affectations that authors seem to enjoy using in their writing. Some are relatively innocuous, but others keep literary agents, publishers and others in the publishing industry from taking us seriously. So here is that excerpt on ampersands. I hope it will act as a warning for those who love the looks of ampersands as much as I do and a balm (in the form of a free offer) to those whose ampersand bubble I am bursting.
The ampersand is a real pretty little dude but it isn’t a letter nor even a word. It’s a logogram that represents a word. Its history goes back to classical antiquity, but interesting history and being cute are no reason to overuse it in the interest of trying to separate one’s writing from the pack. Better writers should concentrate on the techniques that make a difference rather than gimmicks that distract. Here are some legitimate uses and not-so-desirable uses for the ampersand.
- The Writers Guild of America uses the ampersand to indicate a closer collaboration than and. For those in the know, it is a convenient way (a kind of code) to subtly indicate that one writer has not been brought in to rewrite or fix the work of another without offending the guy or gal who couldn’t get it right the first time out of the gate.
- Newspapers, journals, and others choose to use it when they are citing sources. That’s their style choice, not a grammar rule.
- In similar citations, academia prefers that the word and be spelled out. That’s their style choice, not a grammar rule.
- Occasionally the term etc. is abbreviated to &c, though I can see no reason for confusing a reader with this. Etc. is already an abbreviation of et cetera and the ampersand version saves but one letter and isn’t commonly recognized, anyway.
- Ampersands are sometimes used instead of the conjunction to which we’ve become accustomed when the and is part of a name or when naming a series of items, though here, too, it feels like a stretch and more confusing than helpful. Wikipedia gives this example: “Rock, pop, rhythm & blues and hip hop” as an acceptable use. But it, too, is an unnecessary affectation when we could clarify our intent with the traditional serial comma like this: “Rock, pop, rhythm and blues, and hip hop.”
For a little style guide from the point of view of academia go to https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/03/. To see a graphic artist’s creative use of the ampersand, one based on the authenticity of its simply being visually attractive, go to http://amperart.com. Chaz DeSimone, the cover artist for my Frugal Editor and Frugal Book Promoter, offers you a poster featuring ampersands every month with a subscription to his monthly letter which is also free.
So, OK. When should a writer avoid using an ampersand?
- Usually they decorate poetry unnecessarily and because they appear gimmicky, they detract from a poems imagery and sound.
- They are unnecessarily frou frou in nonfiction, too. Kind of like giving a barbeque and having someone show up in formal, be-sequined attire.
- I personally hate them most in fiction. They take the reader out of the story. Sometimes we can lose a reader in the blink of an eye. I can’t believe an ampersand is worth losing a reader just because it looks pretty.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the classes she has taught for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program.
All her books for writers are multi award winners including the first edition of The Frugal Book Promoter published in 2003. Her The Frugal Editor: is also now in its second edition available in paperback (http://bit.ly/FrugalEditor) and as an e-book (http://bit.ly/FrugalEditorKind). It has received awards by USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from New Generation Indie Books, Global Ebook Awards and others including the coveted Irwin award.
Howard-Johnson is the recipient of the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community’s Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly’s list of “14 San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen” and was given her community’s Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts.
Instructor for nearly a decade at the renowned UCLA Extension Writers’ Program
Author of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally books including the second edition honored by USA BOOK NEWS
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