Alex Biles / Uncategorized

Why is the Dollar Sign an “S” with a Vertical Bar Going Through It? (Alex Biles)

Wikimedia Commons

Hold on to your seats, guys and gals. The dollar sign we cherish so much is a fraud. A complete rip-off, actually, of the peso as it was branded by Spanish colonizers in the late 18th century. The “$” became prevalent in Mexico and some of South America, where years of scribbling bucked the original representation for the plural of pesos — previously known as p^s (This theme is dumb and doesn’t support superscript) . Hence the origins of the sign don’t suggest a vertical bar through an “S,” but rather a “P” with an “S” written over it. Other scholars suggest that the dollar sign may have also possessed a double meaning, representing an abbreviation of “U.S.”

In his 1957 book, A History of the Dollar, Arthur Nassbaum argues:

The dollar sign, $, is connected with the peso, contrary to popular belief, which considers it to be an abbreviation of ‘U.S.’ The two parallel lines represented one of the many abbreviations of ‘P,’ and the ‘S’ indicated the plural. The abbreviation ‘$.’ was also used for the peso, and is still used in Argentina.”

Of course there are alternative theories for the sign’s origin. Among the most interesting explanations is a theory that the sign evolved from Greek mythology, where it originated from Hermes, who was the Greek god of bankers, thieves, messengers and tricksters. As Wikipedia kindly tells us, one of Hermes’ symbols was the caduceus, a staff surrounded by snakes or ribbons in an “S” shape that you always see on those loud and annoying ambulances.

Then there’s the hypothesis that the sign came from the Spanish coat arms. During the 15th century reign of Charles V, the Spanish king ordered that the “S”-enveloped ribbon be stamped on gold and silver coins. As the years went on, traders popularized the easier-to-write “S” with two vertical bars.

Today, the dollar sign is a slick and versatile fellow, defining string variables in programming languages I learned in those engineering classes I got C’s in. In addition, the sign is frequently utilized by some rappers in their names to indicate well-being. This includes, but is not limited to: Curren$y, Ke$ha, A$AP Rocky, Too $hort, Ma$e, Ty$ and Co$$.


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