The history of the ampersand

The “&” sign, called the “ampersand,” derives from the script ligature for “et,” the Latin word for “and,” a ligature being two letters hooked together. If you see script “et,” you can tell whence came “&.”
Ampersand comes from “& per se, and.” In the Middle Ages, when a single letter formed a word or a syllable, such as the word “I” or the first syllable in “iris,” says “Merriam-Webster’s Word Histories,” it was written “I per se, I” in hornbooks. A hornbook, used well into the 18th century, was a thin board with a handle that served as backing for a leaf of vellum or sheet of paper on which was written the alphabet, Roman numerals, an exorcism, and the Lord’s Prayer and covered by a thin sheet of transparent horn. A hole in the handle allowed the hornbook to be tied to a student’s girdle.
“A per se, A,” “O per se, O,” and “& per se, and,” “&” following the alphabet in those days, were also written in such manner. The contraction of “& per se, and” became the word “ampersand.” The “&” is sometimes called the Tironian sign, named for Tiro, the amanuensis of Cicero, said to have invented a system of shorthand, who introduced the contraction of “et.”

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