Friday, October 07, 2011

The solidus mark

The solidus was a Roman coin but it is also the name for a punctuation symbol that looks exactly like a slash. The Wikipedia article explains that '2 pounds, 10 shillings, and 6 pence' was written as £2 ⁄ 10 ⁄ 6 (as an alternative to '£2 10s. 6d.') and '10 shillings' would often be written as 10 ⁄ -.

The / has the form it does because it is an abbreviation for “Long S” sometimes known as the integral symbol. It is also called a shilling mark.

So we have a single-stroke symbol that is an textual abbreviation for another single-stroke symbol. The abbreviation has two names, both derived from denominations of coins.


jisles said...

I don't think / is an 'abbreviation' for long s; it is simply a form of long s. When I was young and British, a sum of money in pounds, shillings and pence would commonly be written e.g. £2 10/6d. £2/10/6 was not the form used, because the first '/' doesn't apply. It seems such a long time ago now!

Ed Snible said...

I must confess that I never experienced pre-decimalized Britain. Most of the post information comes from reading Wikipedia and Unicode references.

Wikipedia says "The 's.' was at one stage written using a long s, ∫ that was further abbreviated to the ⁄ symbol..." I thought the Editors of Wikipedia had used the 'abbreviated' in an interesting sense, using it to mean simplifying a line, which I was trying to subtly call attention too.

I have been interested in typesetting symbols used in commerce (such as the new Rupee symbol) and numismatics (such as the mysterious )(. I encourage readers with interest in symbols to post them as comments to this thread.