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#1
Old 12-15-2009, 09:24 AM
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Why does the $ symbol go in front of the amount?

The ¢ symbol comes after the amount, the % comes after the amount, yet with dollars (and pounds and other similar forms of currency) the symbol comes before the amount. We don't SAY "dollars fifty," so why do we WRITE "$50"?

One of my students asked me this, and it's been driving me crazy ever since...admittedly a short trip.
#2
Old 12-15-2009, 09:26 AM
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Because it's always been that way...
or

Because it does.

It's arbitrary and tradition.
#3
Old 12-15-2009, 10:00 AM
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It does let you know up front (literally) that the number that follows is going to be a dollar amount. It just seems to make more sense based on the way we read, even if it differs from the way we speak. If you want to get semantic about it and write out dollar amounts the way we speak them, you'd have to write $2.50 as 2$.50, since nobody says "two-point-five dollars." (You might say "two and a half dollars" but that only works typically for easily spoken fractions, since you wouldn't similarly say "two and twelve fourteenths dollars" for a different amount of cents.)
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Old 12-15-2009, 10:14 AM
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The "you'd have to write $2.50 as 2$.50" doesn't hold; it would be "2.50$". You'd need to separate only if you were writing the units for each part: "2$50ç". The ".50" is still in dollars, it's half a dollar and not half a cent.

When I give my height in meters it's 1.62m; when I give it in these boards, it's 5'4". This is not linked to "metric vs Imperial", but to using a single unit for the whole measurement or not. Another example with dollars which I think may help clarify would be going from $2.05 to either 2.05$ or 2$5ç.

Last edited by Nava; 12-15-2009 at 10:16 AM.
#5
Old 12-15-2009, 10:18 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by taffygirl View Post
with dollars (and pounds and other similar forms of currency)
I think this is the key to the true GQ answer here: you're going to have to go back before dollars and find out who we took the convention from.
#6
Old 12-15-2009, 11:30 AM
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The dollars followed the Pound Sterling convention. The pound sign is from Latin "libra".
In Latin, you would say the currency and then give the amount. It didn't matter that English doesn't do it that way, so although people would speak english, they would write in the Latin convention (notice it is Pound Sterling and not Sterling Pounds)

(Some countries do put the currency first--In India, something doesn't cost seventy-five Rupees, instead you say the price is "Rupees seventy-five" and write it Rs75)

Last edited by fandango; 12-15-2009 at 11:32 AM.
#7
Old 12-15-2009, 12:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fandango View Post
The dollars followed the Pound Sterling convention. The pound sign is from Latin "libra".
That doesn't explain why we put the cents sign after the amount, does it? 50¢ versus $0.50.
Quote:
Originally Posted by fandango View Post
In Latin, you would say the currency and then give the amount. It didn't matter that English doesn't do it that way, so although people would speak english, they would write in the Latin convention (notice it is Pound Sterling and not Sterling Pounds)

(Some countries do put the currency first--In India, something doesn't cost seventy-five Rupees, instead you say the price is "Rupees seventy-five" and write it Rs75)
In French, you put the dollar sign after the amount. See this example news story dealing with a rise in the minimum wage.

I seem to recall seeing some places putting the currency sign in place of the decimal point: 25$99. Except it was the peso sign $ rather than the dollar sign $. So it must have been a Spanish-speaking country, but I don't remember which one.
#8
Old 12-15-2009, 12:16 PM
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I think the Fr. sign for francs generally goes between the francs and centimes, So you have Amounts like 40fr30
#9
Old 12-15-2009, 12:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sunspace View Post
That doesn't explain why we put the cents sign after the amount, does it? 50¢ versus $0.50.
Also from British custom of 50d for 50 pence. (which originated with Latin "denarus"), probably done that way for readability?
#10
Old 12-15-2009, 12:30 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fandango View Post
The dollars followed the Pound Sterling convention. The pound sign is from Latin "libra".
Except that, in print, the original form of the pound sterling symbol (l.) often went after the figure.
#11
Old 12-15-2009, 01:03 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sunspace View Post
In French, you put the dollar sign after the amount. See this example news story dealing with a rise in the minimum wage.
My first reaction to the thread title was "it doesn't always...?" but I didn't really know why until you pointed this out. I'm kind of used to using and seeing either $2.50 or 2.50$ but didn't realize it was a language-related convention. Thanks!

One of the down sides of bilingualism is getting totally confused over what comes from what language. Now if I could only keep things like envelope and enveloppe straight...
#12
Old 12-15-2009, 02:03 PM
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Admittedly, putting it after the amount is more logical; we say 3 %, 6 mi, 27 km, why not 2.50 $? But English is not noted for consistency.
#13
Old 12-15-2009, 02:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sunspace View Post
But English is not noted for consistency.
I'm not sure that any language is.
#14
Old 12-15-2009, 02:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sunspace View Post
Admittedly, putting it after the amount is more logical; we say 3 %, 6 mi, 27 km, why not 2.50 $? But English is not noted for consistency.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fake Tales of San Francisco View Post
I'm not sure that any language is.
Isn't Esperanto perfectly consistent? If not, it should be!
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#15
Old 12-15-2009, 02:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nava View Post
The "you'd have to write $2.50 as 2$.50" doesn't hold; it would be "2.50$". You'd need to separate only if you were writing the units for each part: "2$50ç". The ".50" is still in dollars, it's half a dollar and not half a cent.
I think Mindfield's point though was that putting the dollar sign after the 2 reflects more how we read out the values, not that the dollar sign should in some sense be associated only with the 2.

If we wrote a currency amount as, say, "3.05$" then someone may read it out as "Three point zero five dol..... Oh, it's a currency value, so I should say three dollars, five cents".
#16
Old 12-15-2009, 02:31 PM
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It does add a little bit of security in that digits can't be added to the left when writing a check or making a ledger entry.
#17
Old 12-15-2009, 02:51 PM
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I'm idly wondering if the convention in Spanish of putting an upside-down question mark or exclamation point before a sentence is related to this convention at all.
#18
Old 12-15-2009, 06:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sunspace View Post
I seem to recall seeing some places putting the currency sign in place of the decimal point: 25$99. Except it was the peso sign $ rather than the dollar sign $. So it must have been a Spanish-speaking country, but I don't remember which one.
Portugal used to do that with the escudo sign (which looked a lot like a dollar sign) - as seen on this 2.50 escudo coin. But Portugal uses the euro now.

Which brings me to the point that different countries in the euro zone have different ways of writing the amounts. Some put it before the number, some after. (See the table here.) In practice, you also sometimes see it used in place of the decimal point, as in 3€50.
#19
Old 12-17-2009, 04:41 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sunspace View Post
Admittedly, putting it after the amount is more logical; we say 3 %, 6 mi, 27 km, why not 2.50 $? But English is not noted for consistency.
Or logic.
#20
Old 12-17-2009, 06:49 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KneadToKnow View Post
I'm idly wondering if the convention in Spanish of putting an upside-down question mark or exclamation point before a sentence is related to this convention at all.
Shrug, I have no idea when it originated, but the logic about the opening marks is that they tell you where to change inflection. They're related to the opening mark in a quotation: "you quote things like this," thus indicating where your quotation begins as well as where it ends.



The Catalan and Spanish notations in that table contain a mistake that's pretty frequent. In Spanish, the decimal marker should be an apostrophe (coma alta). It's common to see a comma because most foreign-made computer programs don't have the option to use an apostrophe as a decimal market, so the "nearest option" of using a comma is chosen.
#21
Old 12-17-2009, 04:29 PM
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There is also the custom of writing two thousand dollars as $2M and three million as $3MM. It varies in several ways from other unit nomenclature.
#22
Old 12-17-2009, 04:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fandango View Post
(Some countries do put the currency first--In India, something doesn't cost seventy-five Rupees, instead you say the price is "Rupees seventy-five" and write it Rs75)
I beg to disagree, but that is not correct.

Saying the price as Rupees Seventy Five is uncommon, but is indeed the standard when writing out an amount.

Out aloud, "This costs seventy five rupees" is the accepted norm.
#23
Old 12-17-2009, 11:41 PM
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Originally Posted by Napier View Post
There is also the custom of writing two thousand dollars as $2M and three million as $3MM. It varies in several ways from other unit nomenclature.
Okay, that's confusing. I occasionally see the MM usage and I always think, "megamillion'. Which would be a trillion.
#24
Old 12-17-2009, 11:52 PM
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Regarding the percent sign, it is to the right of a number as it indicates per 100. Not too hard to see how 50/100 evolved to 50%.
#25
Old 12-18-2009, 10:49 AM
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Originally Posted by Napier View Post
There is also the custom of writing two thousand dollars as $2M and three million as $3MM. It varies in several ways from other unit nomenclature.
I have never seen that before. I me, $2M is two million, and $3MM is a typo for three million! $2K is two thousand. Where is your nomenclature used? Is it standard in some industries?
#26
Old 12-19-2009, 12:21 PM
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Originally Posted by mnemosyne View Post
I have never seen that before. I me, $2M is two million, and $3MM is a typo for three million! $2K is two thousand. Where is your nomenclature used? Is it standard in some industries?
It is quite common in business / finance, and is used when writing currency amounts. It originates from the Roman numeral "M", which means 1,000. I have always found it confusing, too, but when in Rome...
#27
Old 12-19-2009, 02:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Napier View Post
There is also the custom of writing two thousand dollars as $2M and three million as $3MM. It varies in several ways from other unit nomenclature.
Huh? I have never seen this before. Anytime I have ever seen $2M written it's stood for $2 million, as in "NYC apartment sells for $2M." No one would think that meant $2,000.
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