Between the election and the pandemic and the thousand million other things weighing on our minds, there’s a lot going on in the world right now. It’s exhausting. We don’t know about you, but we could use a break.
Which means it’s the perfect time to talk about the ampersand! It IS National Ampersand Day, after all.
We love the ampersand, that most squiggly of characters you might know from such places as the name of our company: Ben & Jerry’s. The ampersand looks cool, it’s got a fascinating history, and we bet you’ll love it as much as we do by the time you’re done reading this list.
Item number 1
What’s in a Name?
Imagine those delicious pints snuggled up in your freezer were made by... Josephine’s Flying Machine. That’s (seriously) one of the names our co-founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, considered as they were trying to figure out what to call their first ice cream shop in Burlington, VT. Nothing against Josephine and her no-doubt impressive aircraft, but we’re pretty glad that Jerry and Ben came back down to earth and named the shop after themselves. But why did they go with Ben & Jerry’s instead of Ben and Jerry’s? Well, they’d seen ampersands in all kinds of company names growing up in Long Island, NY (like A&P grocery stores, Arm & Hammer, and Johnson & Johnson), so it just seemed natural to do the same when it came time to name their own place.
Item number 2
Et Tu, Ben & Jerry’s?
Whether the co-founders knew it or not, by opting for the ampersand they were carrying on a tradition set in motion by the scribes of Ancient Rome. Sure, today the ampersand is stylish, worldly, satisfyingly curly, and a bit of a hipster, but back then it was simply the result of writing in cursive. The ampersand is an ornate, but quick, way of combining the letters “E” and “T”—and in Latin, “et” means “and.”
The Romans, of course, eventually controlled an enormous empire. Latin hitched a ride with Roman armies across the globe, becoming the basis for many languages spoken today. The ampersand is basically an ancient relic, a fossil dangling just over the 7 on every modern keyboard.
Item number 3
The Real-Life Ampersand
At Ben & Jerry’s, though, the ampersand is about more than history, more than naming, typefaces, and design. In fact, as far as we’re concerned, the ampersand is alive! The ampersand is a man, and we know him well.
Jeff Furman, who served for many, many years on our Board of Directors, met Jerry and Ben back in the 1970s, before either of them knew anything about making ice cream. But when they had the idea to open up a shop, they turned to him for help (he was a good friend AND he had a degree in business). And that’s how Jeff eventually became known as the ampersand of the company.
Item number 4
Good Enough to Eat
We have to level with you. Ampersands also taste really good. We don’t mean that metaphorically. If you live in the UK, then you already know where we’re going with this. For everyone else, get ready for some flavor (flavour?) envy: Our UK Topped pints feature cute little ampersand chunks made of chocolate. They’re so delicious that they’ll make you want to go back to high school and learn Latin. Or at least give thanks to those Roman scribes. But we doubt even they could have imagined their penmanship ultimately resulting in something so gloriously euphoric.
Item number 5
Everybody Loves the Ampersand
Ampersands are just so fun, aren’t they? There’s an ampersand coloring book, an ampersand-a-day calendar, a font alphabet made entirely from ampersands, and because you were definitely wondering, here’s a countdown of the 12 best ampersands of 2020. The ampersand has come a long way since its oldest-known appearance in some first-century graffiti at Pompei.
Impressive. Even more impressive is that thinking about ampersands for a while kept us from thinking about anything else. Thank you, National Ampersand Day! We hope you enjoyed this brief typographic vacation—see you back here in 2021?