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22 Streaming Facts About House of Cards

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In the hit series House of Cards, cutthroat politician Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) makes sure he’s always at least one move ahead of his colleagues. As the show makes its return to Netflix for a fourth season, we’ve rounded up some little-known facts about the groundbreaking series that even Frank might be surprised to learn. 

1. IT’S BASED ON A BRITISH MINISERIES.

As original as it may seem, House of Cards is actually based on a 1990 BBC miniseries of the same name. The four-episode series, which was adapted from a novel by Michael Dobbs, took place in the time period following Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister. 

2. MICHAEL DOBBS KNOWS OF WHAT HE SPEAKS.

House of Cards author Michael Dobbs didn’t have to do a ton of research for his novel-turned-miniseries-turned-Netflix series. In addition to being a writer, Dobbs served as Thatcher’s chief of staff from 1986 to 1987 and the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party from 1994 to 1995. 

3. BEAU WILLIMON IS NO SLOUCH EITHER.


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House of Cards creator Beau Willimon (who won't be returning as showrunner for the 2017 season) is no stranger to the inner-workings of our own nation’s capital. His resume includes stints working for a range of well-known political figures, including Charles SchumerHillary Clinton, and Howard Dean.

4. WILLIMON RECRUITED SOME ADDITIONAL HELP, TOO.

In order to help get the tone and political maneuvering just right—or, as he told Town & Country, “to make sure we didn't completely embarrass ourselves”—Willimon recruited his college buddy Jay Carson, a political advisor and strategist who has worked with Michael Bloomberg, Howard Dean, and Hillary and Bill Clinton, as the series’ political consultant. Carson also inspired Stephen Meyers, Ryan Gosling’s character in George Clooney’s The Ides of March, which Willimon wrote.

5. HOUSE OF CARDS MARKS DAVID FINCHER’S SMALL-SCREEN DEBUT.

Though two-time Oscar nominee David Fincher is best known for his work on the big screen with movies like Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, The Social Network, and Gone Girl, he made the leap to the small screen for the first time with House of Cards, which he executive produces. Fincher also directed the series’ first two episodes. 

6. THE SERIES LAUNCHED A BIDDING WAR.

Though Fincher and Kevin Spacey (who is also an executive producer on the series) began developing House of Cards without a network commitment, it wasn’t long before there was an all-out bidding war for the series, with AMC and HBO among its suitors. In what was an unprecedented move at the time, Netflix won the rights not just with boatloads of money, but by committing to shooting two seasons from the get-go. “We took it around to a lot of networks and they all loved it and they all were interested, but nobody wanted to commit to 13 episodes,” Fincher told Empire Magazine. “So we were kind of dead in the water. In my infinite hubris, I was: ‘Why not? If we’re gonna do it you may as well do 13.’ Because it’s so much work. It’s 100 hours a week to do a sh*t job.” 

7. HOUSE OF CARDS CHANGED THE BUSINESS OF “TELEVISION.”

Netflix’s successful acquisition of House of Cards—which was only its second foray into original programming, following Lilyhammer—changed the game (and definition) of “television” by releasing an entire season all at once, and online. “This is a really new perspective … to drop them all at once, but I think that’s how we watch TV now,” Spacey told the crowd at 2012’s MIPCOM, with Willimon adding that “streaming is the future. TV will not be TV in five years from now … everyone will be streaming.”

8. IT’S THE FIRST ONLINE SERIES TO WIN AN EMMY.

In 2013, House of Cards made history when it became the first online series to win an Emmy—three of them, actually: for Outstanding Directing (for Fincher), Outstanding Cinematography (for Eigil Bryld), and Outstanding Casting (for casting directors Laray Mayfield and Julie Schubert). A string of additional award nominations and wins, including Golden Globes for Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, followed and opened up the door for other online-only series like Amazon’s Transparent, which won Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Series and Best Actor (for Jeffrey Tambor) in 2015. 

9. KEVIN SPACEY TURNED WOODY ALLEN ONTO NETFLIX.

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In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Spacey shared that he sent Woody Allen a gift subscription to Netflix. “I am one of these actors where I believe very strongly that if you want to get a part, you have to do anything within reason to get that part,” Spacey said. “I admire Woody Allen so much. I was at a point where every time he announces a new movie, I never get an audition and nobody ever calls me to come in. I was like, ‘You know what? I am going to just write Woody Allen.’ So, I introduced myself and sent him a Netflix subscription and said ‘I don't know if you've seen my work, but you might want to watch this series.’ He wrote me back a warm and wonderful letter, and thanked me for the Netflix. He said he’d seen me play lots of different roles and said he absolutely would consider me in a film.” (Allen confirmed his desire to work with Spacey in a 2014 podcast.)

10. FINCHER ENLISTED AN ALL-STAR GROUP OF DIRECTORS FOR THE SERIES.

After setting the tone by directing the first two episodes himself, Fincher turned the directorial reins over to a small group of highly-acclaimed directors, including James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross, At Close Range), Carl Franklin (Devil in a Blue Dress, Out of Time), Joel Schumacher (Batman Forever, Phone Booth), Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa, The Secret Garden), and Jodie Foster (Little Man Tate, The Beaver). “I felt like we were telling 13 stories that are all part of one big story, and I was handing off movements to people whose work I admire,” Fincher told DGA Quarterly of the show’s first season.

11. KEVIN SPACEY DID HIS HOMEWORK.

In order to better understand Frank Underwood’s position, Kevin Spacey spent some time with Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House Majority Whip from California. “I don’t envy him [or] the position,” Spacey told George Stephanopoulos of McCarthy. “It’s not easy. But it was very fascinating [for me] to go to a couple of whip meetings and actually see what the agenda is, what they’re going to put out there, how they do it.” 

12. MOST OF THE SHOW IS SHOT IN MARYLAND.

Though set in D.C., the bulk of House of Cards’ locations—including much of The White House—were built on a soundstage in Joppa, Maryland. “We're making it to last for what will hopefully be a very long run,” executive producer John Melfi told The Baltimore Sun in 2012 of the massive sets they were building. “This is a Hollywood studio back lot.”

13. MOVING THE CAMERA IS FROWNED UPON.

Though Fincher set the series up to be a director-centric one, he did establish an informal set of rules for how the show should be shot—and doesn’t think that handheld or Steadicam shooting should be a part of that. “I remember David saying something like he would only move the camera if there was a damn good reason to,” James Foley, the series’ most regular director, told DGA Quarterly. “So I found myself with a self-imposed discipline to work within because I felt it should be stylistically consistent.” 

14. FINCHER TOLD THE CAST NOT TO F*** IT UP!

In a commentary track for the first season, Fincher swears that every one of the show’s principal actors was the first choice for the role. And as such, “I walked in and I got to say the thing I've always wanted to say to a cast, which is ‘Every single person in this room represents our first choice, so don't f*** this up. ‘Cause if you do, I will never forgive you.'”

15. RACHEL POSNER WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE A REGULAR CHARACTER.

When actress Rachel Brosnahan, who plays Doug Stamper’s tormented call girl/Achilles heel, was originally cast on the show she was set to appear in just two episodes and recite a total of five lines. “She had done such a fine job those first two episodes that I started exploring what it would mean to bring her character back and fully three-dimensionalize her,” Willimon told the Chicago Tribune. “Rachel was so fantastic when we brought her back that I just wanted to write for her more and more.”

16. PRESIDENT WALKER AND SECRETARY OF STATE DURANT ARE MARRIED.

In real life, Michael Gill and Jayne Atkinson (who play former President Garrett Walker and Secretary of State Catherine Durant, respectively) have been married since October 3, 1998—a fact that was unknown to Fincher, Spacey, or the rest of the cast until they were hired. “I had four auditions. All on tape,” Gill told the New York Post in 2014. “Never met Kevin, never met David. We both got it within four or five days of each other. And then towards the end [of the audition process], they realized we were married. When we got to set none of the cast knew we were married.”

17. WILLIMON'S LOVE FOR THE WIRE IS ON FULL DISPLAY.

Fans of HBO’s critically acclaimed series The Wire (which was also shot in Baltimore) have probably recognized some familiar faces in House of Cards, which is hardly a coincidence. In a conversation on Twitter, Willimon told a fan that “My favorite show of all time is THE WIRE. BREAKING BAD = Genius. Also love SURVIVORMAN as far as reality-TV goes.” 

18. CASHEW IS ACTUALLY THREE GUINEA PIGS.

There’s no doubt that the breakout star of House of Cards’ second season was Cashew, the meme-tastic guinea pig BFF of hacker Gavin (Jimmi Simpson). The role is actually played by a trio of guinea pigs—Oscar, Lucas, and Encore—though trainer Carol Rosen told Vulture that it was Oscar who was used for about 90 percent of the scenes.

19. CHINA LOVES FRANK UNDERWOOD.

House of Cards has found an enormous audience in China, where it streams on Sohu, the Chinese equivalent of Netflix. In 2014, the company reported that, of the 24.5 million people who watched House of Cards, the majority of them were government employees. Wang Qishan, one of the Communist Party of China’s most powerful leaders, is reportedly one of the series’ most ardent fans

20. PRESIDENT OBAMA HATES HOUSE OF CARDS SPOILERS!

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One day before House of Cards’ second season premiered in 2013, POTUS took time to tweet a warning to his tens of millions of followers:

(Which we guess also means that even the President can’t get an advance copy.)

21. ONE OF FRANK UNDERWOOD’S MOST ICONIC LINES WAS QUOTING FINCHER.

Early on in the first season, Frank Underwood breaks the fourth wall to tell the audience: “You know what I like about people? They stack so well.” Though it was Willimon who was responsible for writing the line into the script, the dialogue itself was taken from Fincher. It was reportedly his direct response to a line producer who, on the set of the disastrous Alien 3, suggested the notoriously meticulous director try to be more of a “people person.”

22. UNDERWOOD’S PORTRAIT IS HANGING IN THE NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY.

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At the premiere of House of Cards’ new season last month, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. unveiled its latest acquisition, a portrait of Frank Underwood, which will hang alongside its collection of presidential portraits through October.

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12 Surprising Facts About Bela Lugosi
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On October 20, 1882—135 years ago today—one of the world's most gifted performers was born. In his heyday, Bela Lugosi was hailed as the undisputed king of horror. Eighty-five years after he first donned a vampire’s cape, Lugosi's take on Count Dracula is still widely hailed as the definitive portrayal of the legendary fiend. But who was the man behind the monster?

1. HE WORKED WITH THE NATIONAL THEATER OF HUNGARY.

To the chagrin of his biographers, the details concerning Bela Lugosi’s youth have been clouded in mystery. (In a 1929 interview, he straight-up admitted “for purposes of simplification, I have always thought it better to tell [lies] about the early years of my life.”) That said, we do know that he was born as Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó on October 20, 1882 in Lugoj, Hungary (now part of Romania). We also know that his professional stage debut came at some point in either 1901 or 1902. By 1903, Lugosi had begun to find steady work with traveling theater companies, through which he took part in operas, operettas, and stage plays. In 1913, Lugosi caught a major break when the most prestigious performing arts venue in his native country—the Budapest-based National Theater of Hungary—cast him in no less than 34 shows. Most of the characters that he played there were small Shakespearean roles such as Rosencrantz in Hamlet and Sir Walter Herbert in Richard III.

2. HE FOUGHT IN WORLD WAR I.

The so-called war to end all wars put Lugosi’s dramatic aspirations on hold. Although being a member of the National Theater exempted him from military service, he voluntarily enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914. Over the next year and a half, he fought against Russian forces as a lieutenant with the 43rd Royal Hungarian Infantry. While serving in the Carpathian mountains, Lugosi was wounded on three separate occasions. Upon healing from his injuries, he left the armed forces in 1916 and gratefully resumed his work with the National Theater.

3. WHEN HE MADE HIS BROADWAY DEBUT, LUGOSI BARELY KNEW ANY ENGLISH.

In December 1920, Lugosi boarded a cargo boat and emigrated to the United States. Two years later, audiences on the Great White Way got their first look at this charismatic stage veteran. Lugosi was cast as Fernando—a suave, Latin lover—in the 1922 Broadway stage play The Red Poppy. At the time, his grasp of the English language was practically nonexistent. Undaunted, Lugosi went over all of his lines with a tutor. Although he couldn’t comprehend their meaning, the actor managed to memorize and phonetically reproduce every single syllable that he was supposed to deliver on stage.

4. UNIVERSAL DIDN’T WANT TO CAST HIM AS COUNT DRACULA.

The year 1927 saw Bela Lugosi sink his teeth into the role of a lifetime. A play based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker had opened in London in 1924. Sensing its potential, Horace Liveright, an American producer, decided to create an U.S. version of the show. Over the summer of 1927, Lugosi was cast as the blood-sucking Count Dracula. For him, the part represented a real challenge. In Lugosi’s own words, “It was a complete change from the usual romantic characters I was playing, but it was a success.” It certainly was. Enhanced by his presence, the American Dracula remained on Broadway for a full year, then spent two years touring the country.

Impressed by its box office prowess, Universal decided to adapt the show into a major motion picture in 1930. Horror fans might be surprised to learn that when the studio began the process of casting this movie’s vampiric villain, Lugosi was not their first choice. At the time, Lugosi was still a relative unknown, which made director Tod Browning more than a little hesitant to offer him the job. A number of established actors were all considered before the man who’d played Dracula on Broadway was tapped to immortalize his biting performance on film.

5. MOST OF HIS DRACULA-RELATED FAN MAIL CAME FROM WOMEN.

The recent Twilight phenomenon is not without historical precedent. Lugosi estimated that, while he was playing the Count on Broadway, more than 97 percent of the fan letters he received were penned by female admirers. A 1932 Universal press book quotes him as saying, “When I was on the stage in Dracula, my audiences were composed mostly of women.” Moreover, Lugosi contended that most of the men who’d attended his show had merely been dragged there by female companions.   

6. HE TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER.

Released in 1931, Dracula quickly became one of the year's biggest hits for Universal (some film historians even argue that the movie single-handedly rescued the ailing studio from bankruptcy). Furthermore, its astronomical success transformed Lugosi into a household name for the first time in his career. Regrettably for him, though, he’d soon miss the chance to star in another smash. Pleased by Dracula’s box office showing, Universal green-lit a new cinematic adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Lugosi seemed like the natural choice to play the monster, but because the poor brute had few lines and would be caked in layers of thick makeup, the actor rejected the job offer. As far as Lugosi was concerned, the character was better suited for some “half-wit extra” than a serious actor. Once the superstar tossed Frankenstein aside, the part was given to a little-known actor named Boris Karloff.

Moviegoers eventually did get to see Lugosi play the bolt-necked corpse in the 1943 cult classic Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. According to some sources, he strongly detested the guttural scream that the script forced him to emit at regular intervals. “That yell is the worst thing about the part. You feel like a big jerk every time you do it!” Lugosi allegedly complained.

7. LUGOSI’S RELATIONSHIP WITH BORIS KARLOFF WAS MORE CORDIAL THAN IT’S USUALLY MADE OUT TO BE.

It’s often reported that the two horror icons were embittered rivals. In reality, however, Karloff and Lugosi seemed to have harbored some mutual respect—and perhaps even affection for one another. The dynamic duo co-starred in five films together, the first of which was 1934’s The Black Cat; Karloff claimed that, on set, Lugosi was “Suspicious of tricks, fearful of what he regarded as scene stealing. Later on, when he realized I didn’t go in for such nonsense, we became friends.” During one of their later collaborations, Lugosi told the press “we laughed over my sad mistake and his good fortune as Frankenstein is concerned.”

That being said, Lugosi probably didn’t appreciate the fact that in every single film which featured both actors, Karloff got top billing. Also, he once privately remarked, “If it hadn’t been for Boris Karloff, I could have had a corner on the horror market.”

8. HE LOVED SOCCER.

In 1935, Lugosi was named Honorary President of the Los Angeles Soccer League. An avid fan, he was regularly seen at Loyola Stadium, where he’d occasionally kick off the first ball during games held there. Also, on top of donating funds to certain Hungarian teams, Lugosi helped finance the Los Angeles Magyar soccer club. When the team won a state championship in 1935, one newspaper wrote that the players were “headed back to Dracula’s castle with the state cup.” [PDF]

9. HE WAS A HARDCORE STAMP COLLECTOR.

Lugosi's fourth wife, Lillian Arch, claimed that Lugosi maintained a collection of more than 150,000 stamps. Once, on a 1944 trip to Boston, he told the press that he intended to visit all 18 of the city's resident philately dealers. “Stamp collecting,” Lugosi declared, “is a hobby which may cost you as much as 10 percent of your investment. You can always sell your stamps with not more than a 10 percent loss. Sometimes, you can even make money.” Fittingly enough, the image of Lugosi’s iconic Dracula appeared on a commemorative stamp issued by the post office in 1997.

10. LUGOSI ALMOST DIDN’T APPEAR IN ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN—BECAUSE THE STUDIO THOUGHT HE WAS DEAD.

The role of Count Dracula in this 1948 blockbuster was nearly given to Ian Keith—who was considered for the same role in the 1931 Dracula movie. Being a good sport, Lugosi helped promote the horror-comedy by making a special guest appearance on The Abbott and Costello Show. While playing himself in one memorable sketch, the famed actor claimed to eat rattlesnake burgers for dinner and “shrouded wheat” for breakfast.

11. A CHIROPRACTOR FILLED IN FOR HIM IN PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.

Toward the end of his life, Lugosi worked on three ultra-low-budget science fiction pictures with Ed Wood, a man who’s been posthumously embraced as the worst director of all time. In the 1953 transvestite picture Glen or Glenda?, Lugosi plays a cryptic narrator who offers such random and unsolicited bits of advice as “Beware of the big, green dragon who sits on your doorstep.” Then came 1955’s Bride of the Monster, in which Lugosi played a mad scientist who ends up doing battle with a (suspiciously limp) giant octopus.

Before long, Wood had cooked up around half a dozen concepts for new films, all starring Lugosi. At some point in the spring of 1956, the director shot some quick footage of the actor wandering around a suburban neighborhood, clad in a baggy cloak. This proved to be the last time that the star would ever appear on film. Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956;  he was 73 years old.

Three years after Lugosi's passing, this footage was spliced into a cult classic that Wood came to regard as his “pride and joy.” Plan 9 From Outer Space tells the twisted tale of extraterrestrial environmentalists who turn newly-deceased human beings into murderous zombies. Since Lugosi could obviously no longer play his character, Wood hired a stand-in for some additional scenes. Unfortunately, the man who was given this job—California chiropractor Tom Mason—was several inches taller than Lugosi. In an attempt to hide the height difference, Wood instructed Mason to constantly hunch over. Also, Mason always kept his face hidden behind a cloak.

12. HE WAS BURIED IN HIS DRACULA CAPE.

Although Lugosi resented the years of typecasting that followed his breakout performance in Dracula, he asked to be laid to rest wearing the Count’s signature garment. Lugosi was buried under a simple tombstone at California's Holy Cross Cemetery.

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The First Known Uses of 6 Common Typographic Symbols
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Many of the most common symbols on our keyboards have fascinating origin stories. Some, such as the zero, we now take for granted—yet the idea of denoting an absence of value was not present in Western mathematics until introduced from the East. Other symbols, such as the hashtag or at-sign, had a variety of uses until the internet ushered in a new way of communicating and fixed them with the meanings we know today. Below are six examples of the first known usage and subsequent history of some of the most common typographic symbols.

1. AT SIGN // @

The @ (or at-sign) is usually dated to 1536 in a letter from a Florentine merchant, Francesco Lapi, who used it to mean a unit of wine called “amphorae.” But a Spanish researcher claims to have found an even earlier usage in a 1448 document, where the symbol also referred to a unit of measurement (even today, Spaniards call the @ symbol arroba, which is also a unit of weight, and some other Romance languages have similar dual meanings). Either way, the researchers think that the symbol then moved to Northern Europe, where it eventually gained the meaning of “at the price.” Other explanations have also been offered, but whatever the exact root of the symbol, its meaning eventually became known as shorthand for at, and it was generally used in written financial transactions—for example, in noting “Bob sells James 4 apples @ $1.”

The sign had largely fallen out of use by the early 1970s, when computer scientist Ray Tomlinson was working at what is now BBN Technologies, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Tomlinson, who was working for the government on a forerunner of the internet, was trying to figure out how to address messages sent from one computer to another when he noticed the little-used @ on his computer keyboard, and used it to send a prototype email. This precedent was soon adopted as the internet developed, and the at-sign is now, of course, central to our lives.

2. ZERO // 0

The absence of a value is a complex concept, one that many ancient civilizations struggled with. The idea of a zero ultimately came to the West from the mathematicians of India, where, as in a few other cultures, zero was initially used as a placeholder, for example to indicate a lack of units, as in the number 101.

The earliest surviving usage of a zero in India has been traced to an ancient mathematical text known as the Bakhshali manuscript, which is held at Oxford’s Bodleian Library. In September 2017, radiocarbon dating indicated that the manuscript was produced as early as the 3rd or 4th century—providing us with the first known usage of zero some 500 years earlier than previously thought. As Oxford’s Bodleian Library says, “the symbol in the Bakhshali manuscript is particularly significant for two reasons. Firstly, it is this dot that evolved to have a hollow centre and became the symbol that we use as zero today. Secondly, it was only in India that this zero developed into a number in its own right, hence creating the concept and the number zero that we understand today."

The manuscript itself was discovered buried in a field in 1881 in what is today Pakistan. Written on 70 delicate leaves of birch bark, historians think it represents a training manual for Silk Road traders, teaching them concepts of arithmetic.

3. HASHTAG // #

Hashtag on an old typewriter key
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The origin of the hashtag (or pound sign as it's traditionally known in the U.S.) comes from scribes writing shorthand for the Latin libra pondo, which translates as "pound by weight." The abbreviation they used was lb, which was sometimes misread as 16. So, scribes took to drawing a line through the top of the two letters, which over time developed into the now familiar #. In the 1960s, the pound sign was chosen by Bell Laboratories to be a function key on their newly designed telephone keypad. (The Bell Labs team fondly nicknamed the symbol the “octothorpe,” possibly in honor of athlete Jim Thorpe.) Fast-forward to 2007, when early Twitter users wanted to be able to group and filter their feeds, so developer Chris Messina suggested they appropriate the method used in IRC (Internet Relay Chat) whereby users employed the pound sign or "hashtag" to signpost what they were chatting about. (Programmers knew the symbol as the hash, which was now being used to "tag" content.) This simple method soon caught on, and today the hashtag has become indelibly linked to the rise of social media.

4. ELLIPSIS // …

Originally, periods of silence were marked textually with a series of hyphens, but today the symbol of choice is the , a.k.a. the ellipsis. Dr. Anne Toner of Cambridge University spent years researching the ellipsis and finally discovered what she thinks is its first use—an English translation of Roman dramatist Terence’s play Andria printed in 1588. Although the play used hyphens instead of dots, the general idea caught on rapidly. (Toner notes that although there are only four “ellipses” in the 1588 translation, there are 29 in the 1627 version.) By the 18th century, dots started to replace the dashes, which an assistant professor from Southeastern University suggests may be connected to a medieval piece of punctuation called subpuncting or underdotting, which generally indicated something was incorrectly copied.

5. AMPERSAND // &

Ampersand symbol on an old metal block
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The ampersand originated in Latin when the word et (meaning and) was written in cursive script as a ligature (in which one or more letters are written together as a single glyph). One of the earliest examples was found daubed in graffiti on the walls of a house in Pompeii, where it was preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE. By the 8th century the ampersand became a recognizably distinct character, but the word ampersand did not come into use until the late 18th/19th century, when English school children would recite "and per se and" meaning “and by itself means and” to help remember the symbol (per se being Latin for "by itself"). One of the most thorough investigations into the typographic history of the ampersand comes courtesy of German graphic designer Jan Tschichold, who in 1953 published The am­persand: its ori­gin and de­vel­op­ment, in which he collected numerous examples of the ampersand from the 1st century onwards, visually charting its developing form.

6. PLUS SIGN // +

A variety of ceramic plus signs
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The plus sign used for addition in mathematics likely derives from a shorthand ligature for the Latin et meaning “and” and was probably in use for a long time before a surviving example appeared in print. One candidate for the earliest surviving usage is in French philosopher and polymath Nicole Oresme's Algorismus proportionum, a manuscript handwritten between 1356 and 1361, although scholars debate whether it's a true plus symbol. The first use of a plus sign in a printed book is more definitive, and can be found in a 1489 edition of Johannes Widmann’s Mercantile Arithmetic. Widmann also uses the minus sign for the first time in print in this volume—although both plus and minus signs relate not to addition and subtraction but to surpluses and deficits in business accounting. After this usage, the plus sign began to appear more frequently in German mathematical texts, and first appeared in an English text in 1557 in Robert Recorde’s The Whetstone of Witte—which also introduced the equals sign.

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