David Madore's WebLog: How many strokes on the dollar sign?

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Entry #0643 [older|newer] / Entrée #0643 [précédente|suivante]:

(Monday)

How many strokes on the dollar sign?

A very important question for all of us professional hair-splitters out here: how many vertical strokes are there on a dollar sign (‘$’)? Unfortunately, this question admits no definite answer, since apparently both the single-stroke and double-stroke variants are equally correct. Nobody knows for sure what the origin of the symbol is: the most common theories seem to be that it is initially a deformed handwritten version of a ‘p’ with a superscript ‘s’ used as an abreviation of the plural “pesos”, or else that it comes from an ‘S’ with a superimposed ‘U’ (as a kind of monogram of the United States); if we believe one or the other, the single-stroke or double-stroke variant may be more correct—but it could be that both these theories are wrong (perhaps the symbol simply originates from an accounting sign like there were many at some time). I have checked typographic specimens of various typefaces, and the single-stroke version seems more common, but the double-stroke one is used in (at least certain modern versions of) Baskerville (regular but not semibold), Bembo, Caslon and Plantin; all “modern” typefaces, from Times to Stone (through Futura, Optima, Perpetua and Frutiger) use a double stroke, so it is probably safe to say that typographers have made their choice in favor of the single stroke. Also, the Unicode's standard display sample uses a single stroke (but this isn't very significant: they just took a standard Times font for such characters).

One could also ask how many horizontal strokes the pound sign (‘£’) is supposed to have (I refer to the real “pound sign”, not to the number sign, ‘#’ which some Americans confusingly call the pound sign, and which undoubtedly has two horizontal strokes and two vertical ones). I have no answer as to that, but the symbol of the yen (‘¥’) typically has two strokes, even though Unicode says: glyph may have one or two crossbars. There are always two bars on the symbol of the euro (‘€’)—however, the latter is not properly speaking a symbol, it is a logotype (in the sense that its design is fixed and defined by the European Union, it should not depend on the font). Speaking of currency sumbols, there is in ISO Latin-1 a symbol, ‘¤’, which is “CURRENCY SYMBOL” in Unicode, and also known (still according to the Unicode standard) as Filzlaus or Ricardi-Sonne (“Ricardi sun”? what the hell is that?), and I have no idea what it stands for or how it got there; it is sometimes confused with the euro sign, because the ridiculous Latin-9 encoding (which looks confusedly much like Latin-1) replaced the one with the other, and some fonts or systems fsck up between the two. I tend to use that strange ¤ sign as the symbol of the zorkmid which has gone into hacker jargon in phrases such as do not pass go, do not collect two hundred zorkmids.

Maybe some other time I'll speak about the ampersand (‘&’), which is originally a handwritten form of “et”, or the at sign (‘@’), which comes from “ad”, or again the slash sign (‘/’), which is properly called a solidus (that's what Unicode calls it) or virgule (another confusing name, because in French it refers to a comma). Or about that number sign (‘#’) which goes by so many different names (the most ridiculous being “shibboleth”). Read more about all this in the Jargon file.

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