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Verbal Energy: Ampersands at risk, & a boxing snowman

Hipsters may seen the plus sign as a cool way to say 'and,' but we're not buying it.

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For nearly a year now, I've been hanging onto a clip from The New Yorker. And I've kept it basically for one single character in the headline on the article. The piece critiques a New York City Ballet production with a Prokofiev score, a well-known tale of star-crossed lovers, based on a Shakespeare play.

Oh, you may say, you must mean "Romeo and Juliet."

No, not quite. It is, if you please, "Romeo + Juliet."

So what's with the plus sign?

I've been noticing for a while the plus sign appearing in titles, firm names, logos, and such where one might have expected, if not the basic word "and," then a good old-fashioned ampersand.

The intersection of two impossibly slender strokes, the plus sign looks like a set of cross hairs, with none of the swerve and verve of an ampersand. The plus sign is almost not there at all, like the nonexistent faucet handles in up-to-date public bathrooms where you wave your hands like a magician to get the water going.

Gruner+Jahr, the German publisher, was the first firm I noticed doing this. I have a theory that because German is such a formal language, German graphic designers find caprices like "+" instead of "and" particularly tempting.


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