Where Did the Dollar Sign '$' Come From?

More

Chris Beam seeks answers to an important question:

We got the $ from the Spanish. In the late 18th century, merchants in the North American British colonies traded mainly with two currencies: the British pound and the Spanish dollar. When the United States adopted its own currency in 1785, it used Spanish money as its model--a deliberate "screw you" to the British. Scholars have since theorized that the $ sign evolved out of an abbreviation for peso: The plural for pesos was "ps," which eventually became "ps," and then simply an "S" with a single stroke denoting the "p." One early instance of the $ symbol crops up in a letter written by the merchant Oliver Pollock in 1778. Pollock also uses the "ps" abbreviation, making the letter a bridge between the two. The double-line through the S variation is less easily explained. Some believe they represent the twin pillars of Gibraltar depicted on the Spanish coat of arms. Others say it's shorthand for the letter "U" superimposed over the letter "S"--for U.S.

The British pound symbol - £ - comes from the Latin word libra, meaning scales. Originally, one pound was worth exactly one pound of silver, and scales were necessary for exact exchanges. The Chinese yuan uses ¥, which is apparently a messily transliterated "y." Some sad countries like Germany and Poland don't have currency symbols.

Read the whole story at Slate.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Where the Wildest Things Are

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where the Wild Things Go

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Adults Need Playtime Too

When was the last time you played your favorite childhood game?

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In