“So, whats your favorite punctuation symbol?” is probably a question no one has ever asked you. If you were able to answer “YES!, someone has!”, I’d like to be introduced to the person who inquired this, and then you can be known as introducing me to my new best friend.
But I am guessing that you will not be surprised that it’s a question no one has ever asked me either, and so it’s pretty much a guarantee that none of you could possibly know that I would answer:
“AMPERSAND!” with amazingly awkward enthusiasm and not a nanosecond of hesitation.
Let me explain.
First: there’s the history.
Did you know that the ampersand can be traced back to the first century AD? What was originally a separation of the letters E and T (“et” being Latin for “and”) became quickly condensed as Roman scribes wrote in cursive. The first ampersands looked very much like the separate E and T combined, but as type developed over the next few centuries, it eventually became more stylized and less representative of its origins. Still, chances are that if you look at the modern common ampersand, you’ll still be able to somewhat see the E and T separately.
Now, the actual word “ampersand” is much younger. In the early 1800’s, the ampersand symbol was considered its own letter of the alphabet. The word ampersand is a conflation of “and, per se and”. Per se means “by itself”, and so the phrase translates to “&, standing by itself, means ‘and'”. This symbol was the final character of the alphabet as it was recited this way (“and, per se and”) by children in old English schools. Over time, the words began to run together, and ampersand officially was added to dictionaries in 1837.
Second: there’s the definition.
Ampersand: to join things together, and yet remain set apart.
Third: there’s the interpretation.
Isn’t that the best definition EVER of how we should all want to see the world? Other people? Ourselves?
To join things together, yet remain set apart.
To be reminded that everyone in our neighborhood, our nation, our Earth, is joined together by common themes? Themes of love and celebrating, themes of pain and sorrow. None of us are exempt from any of them, and in that we are joined together. And yet, we are set apart in how and when they occur, in how prepared or blindsided we may be, in how much time we need to really “feel it.” In that vein, we must remember that every single human addresses each of these ridiculously common themes in their very own unique way, and we must do our best to remain respectful of that individualism.
And what about ourselves?
To join things together, yet remain set apart.
If you know me at all, you are probably aware that I am much better at the “remain set apart” piece of this phrase. I compartmentalize the different characters I play with ease. My family knows my family mode. My coworkers know my work mode. Dex knows my girlfriend mode. My friends know my friend mode. My cat knows my introvert mode.
And I just know myself as a multi-mode person who is starting to wonder if maybe making a point to exercise the “joining things together” part would not be the end of the world. Maybe I could be more personable with my coworkers. Maybe I could talk about work once in a while, to someone other than a coworker, to better decompress. Maybe I could take some of my girlfriend mode and spread it to my friends, who I know for a fact are not told enough that I appreciate them.
Seriously. Think about it. What amazing things would happen then?
Fourth: there’s the tattoo location.
It’s on my forearm. AKA: visually unavoidable territory
A constant reminder to remember that while we all fight the same battles, we will, without question, go about it differently. A reminder to find beauty in the going about it differently.
To remind myself that, while compartmentalizing is my nature, I am a whole person who can strive to show multiple sides of myself to more than one subset of people at a time.
And, as an ode to celebrating another part of my body that I hate. Yes, I hate my arms.
I also hated my nose. It was too wide from the front, too broad from the side, a bit off-center from any angle. So, long ago, I finally bit the bullet and shoved a pretty little stud into it. No, it didn’t suddenly make me love my nose, but now, at least, I can appreciate it. I no longer focus on it every time I look in the mirror. I can’t remember the last time I talked badly to it.)
I hate my arms because when my wrist is extended outward, my elbow is 90 degrees to the left. It looks awkward, deformed even, and I hate wearing anything other than long sleeves. Now, I have something else to focus on. An ampersand that reminds me of how far I have come, and of who I still want to be; a story of history and punctuation nerdery to share with anyone who asks.
Three amazing reasons to stop favoring long sleeves.