At Dictionary.com last week, my attention was grabbed by one of their slideshows about punctuation. Because, yes, I'm a grammar nerd. This has been well established. ;-) But the very first slide was far and away the most interesting to me.
Both of these things have always been an enigma to me. Where in the world did we get that curly thingy-ma-bob, and why did it mean "and." And why in the world was it called an "ampersand"? Questions I have long gone without knowing the answers to. But now it's all clear. ;-)
The original ampersand was the one that looked like the above, in the graphic--the others are just deviations. And the reason is quite simple. When writing in cursive, Latin scribes would combine and quicken the letters in "and"--et. That combined et made its way into other Latin-based languages like English as a symbol. But it wasn't called an "ampersand" until the 1830s.
At that point in time, this symbol was being taught as a 27th letter of the alphabet. The schoolchildren's recitation would say, "X, Y, Z, and per se and." That "and per se and" got slurred--into ampersand!
And there we go. Your weekly dose of word . . . er, punctuation? . . . fun. ;-)