Ampersand by Ricky Alvarez

“Life is nothing without friendship.”

Marcus Tullius Cicero

I often use the ampersand in my writing, but I never thought to consider the origin of this symbol, until I encountered Ricky Alvarez’s sculpture, Ampersand.

The ampersand (&) is an ancient symbol that can be traced back to the 1st century A.D., to Marcus Tullius Cicero and his slave, Tiro.

Tiro, who was educated in Latin and Greek was an invaluable secretary to Marcus Tullius Cicero. As statesman, lawyer and orator, Cicero required Tiro to write down his many speeches quickly, without errors. Tiro’s response was to invent a shorthand system that, according to what I have read, would last more than 1,000 years. The ampersand was included in Tiro’s system. In Old Roman cursive, Tiro brought the letters E and T together to create a ligature to replace “et” the Latin word for “and”.

Cicero and Tiro must have been kindred spirits. In 53 B.C. Cicero freed Tiro. They continued working together until Cicero’s death, at which time Tiro published some of his patron’s speeches and letters as well as a biography.

Ampersand 2014 by Ricky Alvarez

The ampersand resembles a broken infinity symbol, reminding us that nothing lasts forever. But there will always be an ampersand between “You” & “Me”. This piece captures the history and culture of “love locks” found throughout the world. You are encouraged to add a lock to the installation and contribute your own story to the piece.” Ricky Alvarez


Ricky Alvarez is an installation artist, born and raised in Mexico City, now working from Vancouver Canada. Ricky works with raw and evocative materials to construct unconventional applications and produce a visual narrative that is subjective to each viewer.

Published by Rebecca Budd

Blogger, Visual Storyteller, Podcaster, Traveler and Life-long Learner

52 thoughts on “Ampersand by Ricky Alvarez

  1. Also interesting is the etymology of the name of the symbol:

    “The term ampersand is a corruption of and (&) per se and, which literally means ‘(the character) & by itself (is the word) and.'”

    ▪◾◼◾▪▫◽◻◽▫▪◾◼◾▪▫◽◻◽▫▪◾◼◾▪
    ▫◽◻◽▫▪◾◼◾▪▫◽◻◽▫▪◾◼◾▪▫◽◻◽▫

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am so glad that you added the etymology to this conversation, Graham. I did a quick search of “Geoffrey Glaister’s Glossary of the Book Terms used in Papermaking, Printing, Bookbinding and Publishing with notes on Illuminated Manuscripts and Private Presses.” I was tempted to peek inside, but stopped myself because I knew that I would be going down a rabbit hole. YIKES!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Like you, Liz, the ampersand is my go-to symbol for bring ideas and thoughts together. I had no idea that the origin story went back to Cicero and Tiro. Although there are other explanations. But I rather like the idea of the ampersand reflecting the friendship between Cicero and Tiro. We are linked through history by stories. And that gives me great comfort.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow! I didn’t know that the shorthand system was so old. I have just remembered a cartoon I once saw in which a psychotherapist was sitting on a chair, and in front of him, on the couch, sat an ampersand who cites to the doctor: Sorry, that I don’t lay down, if I do it, our talk will last forever! 😉🤗💖🙏

    Liked by 2 people

  3. A really informative post, Rebecca! And that sculpture is amazing!

    I used to work for a magazine called “Editor & Publisher” that at one point had an offshoot publication called “Ampersand.” 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. How interesting, Dave – Ampersand. When I was researching the word, ampersand, I read that businesses using this symbol to denote a partnership was specific. It seems that the ampersand suggests a closer collaboration than the word “and.” As well think of R&B (rhythm and blues) P&L (profit and loss). I don’t think that Tiro knew that his symbol would take on a life of its own and spread across the centuries. Much like the symbol of the love lock, which has become ubiquitous. Ideas and symbols are powerful message bearers. I always enjoy our conversations.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Many thanks for your visit, comments, and most of all, your friendship, Martina. I love our conversations. I agree – nothing lasts forever so we must treasure the time that is given. Sending many hugs back your way!!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your visit and comments, Marian. I understand that the origin story of the love lock came from Serbia about a hundred years ago. From what I have read, love locks came to the rest of Europe in the early 2000’s. They are now sweeping the globe – to such an extent that they have become a point of contention. Many municipalities now consider them litter or vandalism. Isn’t it interesting how symbols and ideas move with unbelievable speed around the world.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear Rebecca,
    what a great post, we like it very much.
    We heard about the & from our Latin teacher when we had to read Cicero’s texts. That wasn’t very pleasant. After a while, I didn’t understand anything anymore. But my biggest problem was my mother. She has been outstanding in Latin and I had to learn Latin with her. I had 9 years of Latin at my school to see the dimension of horror.
    With lots of love ❤ ❤ and big hugs 🤗 🤗
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. When I was exploring the origins of the ampersand, I came across an article that said that learning Latin was enjoyable and enriching. Then I looked at who wrote the article and found, as I suspected, that it was by someone who taught Latin. I read that if we learn Latin, the way the grammar is organized allows us to coordinate ideas and help us to speak and write English with greater ease. I am uncertain what that actually means. Klausbernd – your ability to articulate ideas and respond to complex questions suggests those years of studying Latin were indeed beneficial for all of us.

      Cogito, ergo sum! Sending much love and many hugs to my dear friends, The Fab Four of Cley

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your visit and comments. The ampersand is ubiquitous in our world, but can you imagine actually creating something that lasts for centuries. I read the Tiro was also an excellent writer. I smiled when I read somewhere that he published a selection of Cicero’s jokes. We always think of Cicero as stately without and hint of levity, but it seems that there was a lot of laughter in the Cicero household.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I was thinking that which is what made the post so fascinating. It is such a simple symbol and yet…. Interesting about Cicero’s jokes too. Ah the things that have been saved that way.

        Liked by 3 people

    1. I read that ‘love locks’ are based on a Serbian tale of WWI. Love padlocks appeared in the rest of Europe around the early 2000’s as a symbolic ritual of love. I read that there is a famous fountain in Montevideo, Uruguay “Fuente de Los Candados” installed by the owners of Bar Facal. The locks started to appear on the fence that protects the fountain. Now it has become one of the city’s most enduring symbols of love. Ideas and symbols have the power to sweep the world.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Sylvia for your visit and comments. I especially appreciated that Cicero freed Tiro, and yet Tiro remained and continued to the work. Their friendship reminds me of the quote by Kahlil Gibran

      “If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. If they don’t, they never were.”

      Liked by 2 people

  5. The AMPERSAND! ! I am sure there is no other abbreviation used in any or more languages than this one–and for so many centuries. I remember using it in my country school house and later in the neighboring town in our high school and then in university! Thank you for the history you have included, a history I had not known. It is so cleverly designed, and has kept the design through the years. It has been designed to go into typewriters and to printing presses and is still as popular as it was centuries ago! Thank you for this informative podcast–

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I am delighted that you enjoyed this post, Frances. I was surprised by the longevity of the ampersand, which is ubiquitous in our everyday lives. I agree – it is cleverly designed and easy to write quickly. Over the centuries, there have been modifications to get us to the symbol that we know today. I also found out that the ampersand has “sisters” in Coptic and Armenian letters. Once I start a research project, I find myself going down a rabbit hole because one things leads to another and another. Many thanks for your visit and comments!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I will never again see the ampersand in the same reality, Rebecca. To date it has been a means of ‘shorthand’.
    Strangely enough it is a symbol I’ve enjoyed for its aesthetic value. However, I will now be reminded of Marcus Tullius Cicero and his slave, Tiro.
    I am also reminded of ‘love locks’ being removed in many cities over the past number of years, particularly Paris. It seems only fitting that the installation by Ricky Alvarez honours not only the ampersand itself, but what it, and the locks have come to represent.
    A truly lovely post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am delighted that you enjoyed this post, Carolyn. Yes, the ‘love locks’ have become ubiquitous. Many municipal authorities see that as litter or vandalism, however there are some others that are using them as fundraising projects. I have read that the history of the love padlocks dates back at least 100 years and includes a love story. Beginning stories are very interesting.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. What an interesting history. I didn’t know that. And how cool that Alvarez encourages people to add to his installation. Wow. That’s a different sort of art and one that evolves, reflecting both the artist and the viewer, who is also the artist. Love that, Rebecca. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I find that art is becoming increasingly interactive. People want to be involved in the story because it brings a sense of belonging. In a few weeks, the Vancouver Mural Festival will be back, which allows passersby to meet up with artists and watch as the artwork unfolds. Many thanks for your visit and comments, Diana. Very much appreciated. Sending hugs!

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Rebecca! This is a special post. & I love it, & the history is marvellous, & the art, & the music, & you!
    Thank you for adding to my knowledge! You always do. {{{hugs}}}

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I looked up etc (et cetera) and found that it came a little later in around the 15th century. This is from Merriman Webster: “The phrase et cetera, as well as etcetera (which didn’t start being used until the 16th century), is also applied to convey a number of unspecified additional persons or things.” It does come from the Latin and can be abbreviated as &c. Love origin stories.

        Liked by 1 person

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