“Abbreviations are characters, or else marks on letters, to signify either a word or syllable. & is the character for and, ye is the abbreviated, yt is that abbreviated; and several other such. Straight strokes over any of the vowels abbreviate m or n. They have been much used by printers in old times, to shorten or get in matter; but now are wholly left off as obsolete.” — Moxon.
In reprints of old books, where the original is closely followed, we occasionally meet with q, as an abbreviation of que: this mark of contraction for ue was attached to the , and was originally used solely for that purpose; for the convenience of using the q without it, the abbreviation was afterwards cast separate, and by degrees it was adopted as a point or stop to divide a sentence, becoming the semicolon, the next in order to the comma.
Some few authors yet retain the ; after a q, for the termination ue, which appears to be the proper mark.
Abbreviations “occur very frequently, and are often the occasion of perplexity to readers less familiarly acquainted with them, in the early-printed books. These also originated from the idea which the first Printers entertained of making their books as much as possible resemble manuscripts. That they should perpetually occur in manuscripts is natural enough; for the librarii, or writers of manuscripts, necessarily had recourse to them to shorten their labours. These abbreviations, in the infancy of Printing, were perhaps to be excused; but it seems they multiplied to so preposterous an extent that it was found necessary to publish a book, both in the Gothic and Roman character, to explain their meaning.” — Beloe's Anecdotes of Literature, &c. See Domesday Book. Records. Sigla.