Letter: Dollar linked to pieces of eight

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The Independent Online
Sir: The $ sign did not begin life as a river running between two banks. It started as a xenogram, a foreign word written as such but pronounced as if it were English. You wrote "peso" but you said "dollar".

"Pesos" was abbreviated as "pS", and this abbreviation was gradually formalised into the present ligature. In the same way we write pounds (an ornate L for Latin libra) but say "pound", or write & (an ornate ligature of Latin et) but say "and".

In the 18th century the Spanish peso was the most frequent high-value coin in circulation in British North America and "dollar" (from the German thaler) was colloquial English for any foreign coin of substance.

Professor MAURICE POPE

Oxford

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