Random Thoughts in the Season of COVID19

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a Master.”                                 —Ernest Hemingway

If you’re having trouble during this time of social isolation with a concern that you are not washing your hands for the recommended 20 seconds, try washing each finger separately as you count “one thousand one; one thousand two; next finger!” And, of course, do this frequently.


While my brain is in this neighborhood of fingers, here’s a keyboard sequence I’ll wager most of us never memorized in typing class:

! @ # $ % ^ & * (  )

And remember, “caps lock” doesn’t work with these! Also, don’t say you never use these keys. In the modern cultural world, e-mail demands you know cap2, and Twitter demands you know cap3. And, your bankers and merchants certainly insist you know cap4.

You might also be surprised to discover the technical name of a sometimes-called “and sign” (cap7) is ampersand. Many printers call it an amperzand; it’s also known as an “ampassy”; and in the original Latin, this symbol is a “ligature”; that is, a combining of two letters.

[By the way, make an effort to sanitize your keyboard!]


Following is a little note from The Fairfax Grammar Book that explains this stuff better than I can:


In writing, a ligature is a combination of two or more letters  joined into a single unit. There were many ligatures used in English at one time, formed to make typesetting easier (known as typographical ligatures), but these were all discarded as printing became easier and less expensive. However, there are two other ligatures that originated in Latin and were carried into English as distinct letters.

[My note: One can’t make a ligature from a keyboard, but just think of AE  or CE run together as a single letter. To be fair, some keyboards offer these ligatures as “special figures” along with the hidden special-set collection that allows typists to insert a Spanish tilde or German umlaut or other oft-required accent marks. These generally are labeled diacritical marks. Many current keyboards use combinations of keys to enter an appropriate diacritical mark.]

While these two letters (AE and CE) were eventually separated in modern English (and eventually reduced to just E/e in American English), there is another Latin ligature that is used in English and on all keyboards today; that is, & (known as the ampersand mentioned above).

Finally, there is one other ligature that arose as Latin evolved over time and is now a part of the modern English alphabet: W (that is “double u”).


The ampersand is also one of the most difficult ligatures to write; it looks like the numeral 8 with two small tails on its lower right (a challenge even to calligraphers). English penmanship often writes an ampersand as a script E with a vertical slash down through its middle. (Don’t say we never use ligatures! The dollar sign and the cent sign probably count as ligatures, By the way, the cent sign is rarely found on current standard keyboards.)


To extend this bit of silliness, look up the word octothorpe! You can startle your friends on Twitter and Facebook with the query, “What’s your octothorpe?”


Lastly, regarding keyboards: The most widespread English keyboard uses a QWERTY design and is named after the first six-letters of the top row of keyboard letter keys.

Also, one of the most beautiful and important six-letter words in the English language can be typed by using only top-row keys where QWERTY begins: That word is POETRY!


Adios! (Yes, it’s Cinco-de-Mayo!)

Read some poetry while you drink your celebratory May 5 beer! Better yet, put down your drink and try to write a poem.


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