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14 Things We Learned From Werner Herzog's Reddit AMA

To celebrate the launch of his online MasterClass on filmmaking, director Werner Herzog participated in a Reddit AMA. Here are a few things we learned.

1. HE DIDN’T KNOW MOVIES WERE A THING UNTIL HE WAS 11 YEARS OLD.

In an answer to a question about how his moviemaking philosophy has changed since he first started making films at the age of 19, Herzog explained that he “didn't even know that cinema existed until I was 11.” He was introduced to the art form when “a traveling projectionist arrived at the schoolhouse in the mountains in Bavaria.” (The self-taught director, in an answer to another question, said that “since I came into contact with cinema fairly late in my youth, I always had the feeling I was sort of the inventor of cinema itself. It sounds kind of crazy or not right, as if I was not right in my mind, but until today, I couldn't care less about the rules of anything since I developed it all on my own.”)

Another fun fact: Herzog didn’t make his first phone call until he was 17. “Nobody can believe it nowadays.”

2. HE DOESN’T THINK THAT CHEAPER TECHNOLOGY HAS ADVANCED THE ART OF FILMMAKING.

“Has photography very subtly improved because we do have 3.5 billion people who use their cell phones and take photos and all sorts of things?” Herzog wrote. “I don't believe that the art of photography has improved much. It's the same thing as its value in filmmaking. I do not believe that we have found the completely hidden unknowns who all of [a] sudden, who through cheap digital cameras, make their movies. They would emerge no matter what, whether they have a cell phone or a video camera. However, I must say, we have seen some good surprises, and sometimes you see them on YouTube of all places. But not really that it has advanced the art of filmmaking much.”

3. HE DOESN’T HAVE A HIGH OPINION OF BIOPICS.

When a Redditor asked why Herzog chose to focus on Gertrude Bell’s romances rather than her life in general in Queen of the Desert, the director responded that “You see biopics normally do not work when in movies.” Though there are exceptions—Herzog named Ghandi—and biopics on TV are fine, he wanted to make “a big epic feature film … A lot of the film is about poetry and translating poetry. It's a lot about solitude, it's a lot about empty spaces, it's a lot about music. These elements are more interesting than just a simple biopic. That has created some controversy but I must say I don't really care … It's a film that set its course from the very beginning. Don't do a biopic, go for what's much more fascinating.”

4. HE CAN'T CHOOSE A FAVORITE FILM.

“Well, you cannot really ask a mother, ‘Which one of your children are you most proud of,’” he wrote. “You love them all, I love all of them, my 72 or so films. And those who are the weakest—some of them are weak and some of them have defects, where they limp—and I defend them more than the others. So, I'm proud of them all.”

5. HE DOESN’T THINK YOU READ ENOUGH.

When answering a broad question about what of humanity’s capabilities or history terrifies him the most, Herzog answered that “we have to be very careful and should understand what basic things, what makes us human, what essentially makes us into what we are.” Doing so, he said, would help us make educated choices about things like trusting the logic of self-driving cars.

“We should make a clear choice, what we would like to preserve as human beings, and for that, for these kinds of conceptual answers, I always advise to read books,” he wrote. “Read read read read read! And I say that not only to filmmakers, I say that to everyone. People do not read enough, and that's how you create critical thinking, conceptual thinking. You create a way of how to shape your life.”

6. HE HAS SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR WHAT HE THINKS YOU SHOULD READ.

Herzog himself reads “a lot of history, much of it from antiquity; ancient Roman and ancient Greek historians.” He makes all students in his four-day seminar, which he calls Rogue Film School, read The Peregrine. The book, which was written by “a completely obscure British writer” and published in 1967, is, Herzog wrote, “one of the most wonderful books I've ever read in my life ... It has prose of a quality that we have not seen since the short stories of Joseph Conrad. And secondly, what every filmmaker or every artist should have in him or her, is an incredible attention to something you love. In this case, a man watches Peregrine survive the brink of extinction, and the passion, the unbelievable passion for what he sees and how he deals with the birds, is just unbelievable. And that's how you should meet the world.”

The director advises that you should “read books that everybody thinks are not that interesting.” He called the Warren Commission’s report on the JFK assassination “one of the finest crime stories you can ever lay your hands on, and it has a logic in it that is phenomenal.” He also recommends Bernal Díaz del Castillo's The Conquest of New Spain. “He was a frontman of the conquest of Mexico, and as an old man he wrote his biography, and it's filled full of unbelievably strange detailed, and I highly advise to read this,” Herzog wrote. “So, I could give you 5000 more books but let's stop it right there.”

7. YOU LEARN WILD THINGS WHEN YOU ATTEND HIS FILM SCHOOL.

Herzog’s MasterClass goes into the more traditional aspects of filmmaking—how to deal with crazy actors and manage finances, for example—while his Rogue Film School focuses more on guerrilla filmmaking techniques. “I will teach you how to pick a safety lock, I will teach you how to forge a shooting a document, allowing you to film and things like that,” he wrote.

8. HE STILL HAS THE RIFLE FROM THE INCIDENT WITH KLAUS KINSKI.

While they were in the jungle filming Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972) in the early 1970s, lead actor Klaus Kinski went a little crazy. It had been “a tough day at work,” Herzog wrote in the AMA, and he and some extras from the film crammed into a hut to drink beer, play cards, and unwind. The noise infuriated Kinski, who, according to Herzog, “was on a hill nearby, all alone, and he wanted to have his absolute quiet around him. He screamed and yelled, and fired three shots from his Winchester.” The director rushed out of the hut and wrestled the gun away from the actor. “There's no feeling, there's no thinking, I just rushed and wrestled the gun away from Kinsky [sic] and that was that,” Herzog said. “Take the rifle from him, no feelings, no thinkings, nothing. Just stop that bozo.” Thankfully, no one was killed—“he only shot the middle finger away from one of the guys,” Herzog wrote—and the director still has the gun: “It's one of my prized possessions.”

9. IF HE COULD TEACH ANYTHING OTHER THAN FILMMAKING, IT WOULD BE MATH.

“But very, very abstract works, like nothing but theory,” the director wrote. “I'd like to be into astronomy, I'd like to be in archaeology, I'd like to be into volcanoes. In fact, I'm right now finishing a big film on volcanoes. It's called Into the Inferno. It's such a fascinating field of research.”

10. HE “WOULD LOVE TO LEARN” HOW TO PLAY THE CELLO.

“But you see I'm too old for that, you start learning it before you are 10,” he wrote. “This has alluded me, it's a big gap in my life, a void. Let’s say I did learn the cello with the ease of how we are breathing. Today I would probably have been a teacher of music.”

11. ONE MOMENT IN GATES OF HEAVEN MADE HIS JAW DROP.

When one Redditor asked Herzog if there were “moments in cinema that have been so compelling you almost injured yourself,” Herzog brought up a moment in his friend Errol Morris’s documentary, Gates of Heaven. “There is one young man who looks into the camera and he says ... ‘Well death is for the living and not for the dead, so much.’ Then all of a sudden the picture behind him falls off the wall,” Herzog wrote. “It's just something where you can't believe your luck. Look out for those moments. They do not change the course of my life, they do not change anything, but these moments do make my life better.”

Famously, Herzog bet Morris that if he ever finished Gates of Heaven and showed it in a public theater, he’d eat his own shoe. Morris did it, and Herzog ate his shoe, washing bits of it down with a beer.

12. FOR HERZOG, SCREENWRITING HAPPENS VERY QUICKLY.

Herzog said that he doesn’t so much find ideas as happen upon them. “Very often, films come with uninvited guests, I keep saying like burglars in the middle of the night,” he wrote. “They're in your kitchen, something is stirring, you wake up at 3 a.m. and all of the sudden they come wildly swinging at you.”

Eventually, “the situation makes it clear that this is so big, I have to make a film.” Then, the writing happens quickly and furiously:

“When I write a screenplay, I write it when I have a whole film in front of my eyes, and it's very easy for me, and I can write very, very fast. It's almost like copying. But of course sometimes I push myself; I read myself into a frenzy of poetry, reading Chinese poets of the 8th and 9th century, reading old Icelandic poetry, reading some of the finest German poets like Hölderlin. All of this has absolutely nothing to do with the idea of my film, but I work myself up into this kind of frenzy of high-caliber language and concepts and beauty. And then sometimes I push myself by playing music; in my place it would be, for example, a piano concerto, and I play it and I type on my laptop furiously.”

13. HE’S A FAN OF CAT VIDEOS.

When a Redditor asked him what his favorite animal is, the director first picked a falcon. Where he lives, he wrote, “there's a tall tree in the distance, and there's a wonderful falcon out there.” He also likes hummingbirds and cats, “because they're so strange sometimes. And you see them on the internet, the crazy cat videos for example, and I'm a fan of them.”

But if there’s one animal he can’t stand, it’s chickens. “They are so stupid,” he wrote. “And it's easy to hypnotize them. Put their beak on the ground, hold them and draw a quick, straight line away from their beak onto the ground, onto the pavement, and they'll stay there frozen and hypnotized! Unfortunately, this is not in my MasterClass. I think there are certain things you cannot learn in my MasterClass.”

14. HE THINKS THAT PEOPLE WHO WANT TO LEARN ABOUT THE WORLD SHOULD TRAVEL BY FOOT.

“The world reveals itself to one who travel[s] on foot,” the director wrote. He recounted a time when he was at the Johnson Space Center, where he was set to talk to five astronauts who’d been to space. They were sitting in a semi-circle, and Herzog wrote that his heart sank—he didn’t know what he should say or do. “I looked around and looked into their faces and all of a sudden I had the feeling, I understand these people,” he wrote. “I understand the heart of these men and these women. I said ‘Since I was a child, when I learned how to milk a cow with my own hands, I can tell that since I've traveled on foot and in the meadow first you milk a cow to have something to drink. I know by looking at faces, who is able to milk a cow.’ I looked at the pilot and said ‘You sir!’ and he burst out in smiles and says ‘Yes, I can milk a cow.’ Somehow when you make films, you understand the heart of men. In a way you cannot learn it, the world has to teach you. The world does it in its most intense and deepest way when you when you encounter it by traveling on foot.”

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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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