# A few good ampersands

by David JonesThe ampersand is essentially a ligature for *et*, the latin for *and*.

The usual form for this is a figure 8 with a crossed pair of tails on the lower right. Let’s have a look at some.

(the fonts in this article have all been chosen because they are bundled with macOS, or are openly available; while the selection is intended to be representative of the common forms, it’s not particularly systematic.)

Baskerville is typical.

Most sans serifs use the same shape, but without the serifs. Here modelled by Avenir.

Because i have a maths degree, i see that this form encloses 2 holes and therefore has topological genus 2.

The reader shall indulge me in the briefest introduction to topology.

## Topological genus, the briefest introduction

Topology studies to what extent we can smoothly deform one object into another,
and *topological genus* is a mathematical system for
describing objects with similar topology.
More simply, it’s the number of *holes* an object has.

It can get a lot more complicated that that, but i refer you to Wikipedia,
if you want more topological complexity in your
life,
because that’s cheaper than a copy of
*Algebraic Topology: A First Course* from
Springer’s Graduate Text in Mathematics series.

When I say, above, that the Avenir *&* has genus 2,
I mean it has 2 holes.
If i made it out of some imaginary deformable material, i could squash it
around, without making any new holes or closing existing ones, to get the
“egg with 2 holes” shape above.

## Counters, closed & open

In typography, a hole inside a shape is called a *counter*.
In the metal era of type, a *punch* was made for each letter, the
holes in the punch were made with a *counter-punch*.

Counters in a shape can be closed, as in *O*, or open as in *G*.

Here we see PT Sans modelling the counters in
*&* (2, both closed) and *a* (2, one open and one closed).

In this 2-counter form, the top counter is teardrop shaped, pointed down and slightly to the left or sometimes straight down; the bottom counter is D shaped. Both the counters are closed, making this a topological genus 2 form.

This is the most common form, but there is considerable variation in the angles and terminals of the tails.

## Italic variant

The italic style is, in ordinary serif font families,
not just the regular form drawn with a tilt;
it’s based on a different model.
For this reason, in many italics, the ampersand has a complete different form, and
shows more clearly its *et ligature* origins.

Sans serif families do tend to have italics that are
more like the regular font tilted over.
Most typographers use the term *oblique* for this, rather than *true italic*.
So, we see this alternate form of ampersand more commonly in serif families than
sans serif families.

A typical italic form is modelled here by Baskerville Italic.

In Baskerville Italic (above) the swash terminals on the right-hand *T* part
are perhaps a little bit more flamboyant than average, but
still well within the acceptable spectrum.

Palatino Italic is similar:

Trattatello (bundled with macOS, marketed as
P22 Operina elsewhere) is
based on Arrighi’s *La Operina* pamphlet, and shows a clear correspondence to
how one might write *et* in handwriting:

This italic form is open, and could be thought of as a topological genus 0 form.

## Genus 1 forms

There are a couple of genus 1 forms, not related to each other.

Apple Gothic has an ampersand which is the genus 2 form, but with the top counter made open. Courier (and Courier New) and Pria Ravichandran’s Catamaran have a similar form.

Topologically speaking, Trebuchet has the same form (same genus), but
it is more upright.
It has a very clear connection to *et*:

The other genus 1 form is based on the lower case *e*.
This is used by Cochin and the formidable Hoefler Text,
both in their italic styles:

# Oddities

Skia, from Apple, on the face of it has a fairly ordinary genus 2 form, but at the top crossing the strokes do not line up, producing a dog-leg effect.

Unlike the usual form, this one cannot be drawn with a single stroke of a pen.

Apple Chancery has a genus 3 form which seems almost accidental. It’s essentially the genus 2 form with an extra flamboyant swash that connects on the left, to make a new closed counter.

Then there’s Zapfino.

Thanks Zapf.