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Correcting Your Behavior Since 2017

Knowing Your "And" from Your Ampersand

Tools aren't interchangeable. Ask anyone who works with his hands. Artists use different brushes to achieve different effects. Each brush has a specialty. Use a rigger or a fan to do the job of a filbert and . . . Well I don't know what happens but it's bad. Very, very bad for the art. Potters, of course, as we all know (I just looked it up), use loop, wire, and ribbon tools, ribs, scrapers, potters' needles, fettling knives, sponges . . . I mean, you surely can't use a sponge to do a rib's job. Because . . . there goes your pottery. You sponged when you should have ribbed.

Builders have an unfathomable number of very specific tools and hardware for very specific tasks. For example, there are lots of methods for joining things together: mortise and tenon, finger, dovetail, and miter joints. There are nails, screws, corrugated fasteners, staple guns, glue, mending plates, and more. But each was designed for a specific need.

In English, we have only a few tools for joining things together. But, just as in carpentry or plumbing, the joiners aren't interchangeable. The word "plus," for example, is for joining together elements in an equation. That's what it's for. It's not the same as the all-purpose joiner, "and," which is why one never orders a "scotch plus soda," or seeks damages for "pain plus suffering," or complains that they're "sick plus tired" of all these examples. That would be dumb.

And then we have the ampersand, that very special, fancy symbol that remains in the tool kit most of time, to be used in only a few very specific linguistic circumstances. Here's what it's for:

1) Partnerships in company names: Lord & Taylor, Johnson & Johnson, Mushnik & Son, AT&T

2) Words that are married into a single term: research & development, rhythm & blues, r&r, surf & turf

3) A few other specific instances not worth mentioning here

And that's it. The ampersand creates only the most solid and inseparable of professional partnerships. Anything else is an "and." Or it's an error. Night and day. Soup and salad. Netflix and chill. You and your issues. Even songwriting teams like Rodgers and Hammerstein, comedy teams like Abbott and Costello, and married couples like Mr. and Mrs. Curmudgeon correctly use "and" rather than ampersand.

These days, however, the symbol has been mistakenly pressed into service as a quick and easy replacement for that pesky three-letter "and" that takes so much time to type and consumes so much space in our tweets. But in fact—in actual, non-alternative fact—swapping an "and" for an ampersand is not an option; it's wrong. And the Curmudgeon calls foul on this rampant ampersand abuse.

Look at it: &. It's like an elegant, turn-of-the-century, Southern socialite, hosting parties for professionals and bringing them together. As you can see, she's wearing a bustle and presenting one guest to another: "Mr. Sears, meet Mr. Roebuck," I can hear her say. I can imagine her linking arms with Mr. Barnum and bringing him over to meet Mr. Bailey, drawing them together to make "Barnum & Bailey." Hers is an exclusive world, not meant for the riffraff. Send her to work as an "and"—the most common of word connectors—and you offend her elegant sensibilities. You don't want to do that; she knows big important people in the business world. And as for "and" . . . Miss Ampersand doesn't even know "and." They don't travel in the same circles. "And" isn't invited to her parties. Don't confuse the two; Miss Ampersand isn't to be disrespected like that.

Whenever someone writes, "I'll call you tomorrow & let you know the schedule," or "I was there & I saw the whole thing," the Curmudgeon cringes, and yes . . . weeps a little. Once again, it's this generation's new self-entitlement to spell, punctuate, and use language however they damn well please that breaks the Curmudgeon's heart. It's become a presumed right to be wrong: "Who are you to tell me where to put my ampersand? I'm an American. I'll put it anywhere I like." Well, yes, by law, you're entitled to abuse language to your heart's content. You can use the word "pizza" to mean "elbow," and no one can arrest you (I'm looking into that). You can say "hallelujah!" and mean "oh, rats!" if that's important to you. And you can keep throwing ampersands into your sentences like an ignoramus, just to exercise that freedom. It's not my job to stop you. The service I provide is merely to tell you that you're wrong.

Because that's the very specific task that a curmudgeon is for.

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