Dollar sign

Dollar sign

Dollar sign
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The dollar or peso sign ($) is a symbol primarily used to indicate the various peso and dollar units of currency around the world.



The sign is first attested in British, American, Canadian, Mexican and other Spanish American business correspondence in the 1770s, referring to the Spanish American peso,[1][2] also known as "Spanish dollar" or "piece of eight" in British North America, which provided the model for the currency that the United States later adopted in 1785 and the larger coins of the new Spanish American republics, such as the Mexican peso and the Peruvian eight-real and Bolivian eight-sol coins.

The best documented explanation reveals that the sign evolved out of the Spanish and Spanish American scribal abbreviation "ps" for pesos. A study of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century manuscripts shows that the s gradually came to be written over the p developing a close equivalent to the "$" mark."[3][4][5][6][7]

Alternative hypotheses

There are a number of other theories about the origin of the symbol, some with a measure of academic acceptance, others the symbolic equivalent of folk etymologies.[8]

Drawn with one vertical line ($)

Slash 8

One theory is that the dollar sign is derived from a slash through the numeral eight, denoting pieces of eight. The Oxford English Dictionary before 1963 held that this was the most probable explanation, though later editions have placed it in doubt.

Spanish pieces of eight

Image of 1768 Spanish Colonial Real silver coin, showing PTSI mint mark in lower right and left quadrants and the Pillars of Hercules surrounding a picture of the world.

Another theory is that the dollar sign was derived from or inspired by the mint mark on the Spanish pieces of eight that were minted in Potosí (in present day Bolivia). The mint mark, composed of the letters "PTSI" superimposed, bears a strong resemblance to the single-stroke dollar sign (see photo). The mark, which appeared on silver coins minted from 1573 to 1825 in Potosí, the largest mint during the colonial period, would have been widely recognized throughout the North American colonies.[citation needed]

Greek mythology

Another theory is that the dollar sign may have also originated from Hermes, the Greek god of bankers, thieves, messengers, and tricksters: Besides the crane, one of his symbols was the caduceus, a staff from which ribbons or snakes dangled in a sinuous curve.

Alchemic sigil for cinnabar

A symbol virtually identical to dollar sign has been used as an alchemic sigil for cinnabar dating at least as far back as the early eighteenth century, although this has not been proposed as an origin of the dollar sign. [9]

Drawn with two vertical lines

Spanish coat of arms

The Pillars of Hercules with a small "S" shaped ribbon around in the City of Seville, Spain (16th Century).

A common theory holds that it derives from the Spanish coat of arms engraved on the colonial silver coins, the reals, (among them the Spanish dollar) that were in circulation in Spain's colonies in America and Asia. Reals and Spanish dollars were also legal tender in the English colonies in North America, which later became part of the United States and Canada.

In 1492, Ferdinand II of Aragon adopted the symbol of the Pillars of Hercules and added the Latin phrase Non plus ultra meaning "nothing further beyond", indicating "this is the end of the (known) world." But when Christopher Columbus came to America, the legend was changed to Plus ultra: "further beyond."

Spain's coat of arms

The symbol was adopted by Charles V and was part of his coat of arms representing Spain's American possessions. The symbol was later stamped on coins minted in gold and silver. These coins, depicting the Pillars of Hercules over two hemispheres and a small "S"-shaped ribbon around each, were spread throughout America, Europe and Asia. For the sake of simplicity, traders wrote signs that, instead of saying dollar or peso, had this symbol made by hand, and this in turn evolved into a simple S with two vertical bars.

From "US"

A dollar sign with two vertical lines is a monogram of U.S., used on money bags issued by the United States Mint. The letters U and S superimposed resemble the historical double stroke dollar sign \mathrm{S}\!\!\!\Vert: the bottom of the 'U' disappears into the bottom curve of the 'S', leaving two vertical lines. This theory does not consider the fact that the symbol was already in use before the formation of the United States.[10]

The book Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand includes a section where the main characters philosophize about the United States being the only nation to ever use its own monogram for its currency symbol. They suggest it means that the country had always been primarily concerned with the creation of wealth.

"Unit of silver"

Another theory is that it derives from "unit of silver", each unit being one "bit" of the "pieces of eight". Before the American Revolution, prices were often quoted in units of the Spanish dollar. According to this theory, when a price was quoted the capital 'S' was used to indicate silver with a capital 'U' written on top to indicate units. Eventually the capital 'U' was replaced by double vertical hash marks.[citation needed]

German Thaler

Another hypothesis is that it derives from the symbol used on a German Thaler. According to Ovason (2004), on one type of thaler one side showed the crucified Christ while the other showed a serpent hanging from a cross, the letters NU near the serpent's head, and on the other side of the cross the number 21. This refers to the Bible, Numbers, Chapter 21 (see Nehushtan).[citation needed]

Roman sestertius

There is a theory that the dollar sign goes back to the most important Roman coin, the sestertius, which had the letters 'HS' as its currency sign. When superimposed these letters form a dollar sign with two vertical strokes (the horizontal line of the 'H' merging into the 'S').

Later history

Robert Morris was the first to use that symbol in official documents and in official communications with Oliver Pollock. The US Dollar was directly based on the Spanish Milled Dollar when, in the Coinage Act of 1792, the first Mint Act, its value was "fixed" (per the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8, clause 1 power of the United States Congress "To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures") as being "of the value of a Spanish milled dollar as the same is now current, and to contain three hundred and seventy-one grains and four sixteenth parts of a grain of pure, or four hundred and sixteen grains of standard silver."

According to a plaque in St Andrews, Scotland, the dollar sign was first cast into type at a foundry in Philadelphia, United States in 1797 by the Scottish immigrant John Baine.

The plaque in St. Andrews.

The dollar sign did not appear on U.S. coinage until February 2007,[citation needed] when it was used on the reverse of a $1 coin authorized by the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005.[11]

The dollar sign appears as early as 1847 on the $100 Mexican War notes and the reverse of the 1869 $1000 United States note.[12] The dollar sign also appears on the reverse of the 1934 $100,000 note as well as the reverse of the 1917 $1 note.[citation needed]

Use in computer software

The symbol "$" has Unicode code point U+0024 (inherited from Latin-1).

As the dollar sign is one of the few symbols that is, on one hand, almost universally present in computer character sets, but, on the other hand, rarely needed in their literal meaning within computer software, the $ character has been used on computers for many purposes unrelated to money.[13] Its uses in programming languages have often influenced or provoked its uses in operating systems, and applications.

Programming languages

  • $ was used for defining string variables in older versions of the BASIC language ("$" was often pronounced "string" instead of "dollar" in this use).[13]
  • $ is used for defining hexadecimal constants in Pascal-like languages such as Delphi, and in some variants of assembly language.[13]
  • $ is used at the starts of names to define variables in the PHP language and the AutoIt automation script language, scalar variables in the Perl language (see sigil (computer programming)), and global variables in the Ruby language.[13]
  • In most shell scripting languages, $ is used for interpolating environment variables, special variables, arithmetic computations and special characters, and for performing translation of localised strings.[13]
  • $ is used in the ALGOL 68 language to delimit transput format regions.
  • $ is used in the TeX typesetting language to delimit mathematical regions.[13]
  • Formulas in spreadsheets (e.g., Microsoft Excel) use $ to denote an absolute cell reference.[13]
  • In many versions of FORTRAN 66, $ could be used as an alternative to a quotation mark for delimiting strings.[13]
  • In PL/M, $ can be used to put a visible separation between syllables of identifiers. For example, 'Some$Name' refers to the same thing as 'SomeName'.[13]
  • In Haskell, $ is used as a function application operator.[13]
  • In several JavaScript frameworks starting with Prototype.js and also popular in jQuery, $ is a common utility class.
  • In ASP.NET the dollar sign indicates an expression will follow it, when used in a tag in the web page. The expression that follows is .net language-agnostic, as it will work with c#,, or any CLR supported language.

Operating systems

  • In CP/M and subsequently in all versions of DOS (86-DOS, MS-DOS, PC-DOS, more) and derivatives, $ is used as a string terminator (Int 21h with AH=09h).[13]
    $ is used by the prompt command to insert special sequences into the DOS command prompt string.[13]
  • In Microsoft Windows, $ is used at the end of the share name to hide a shared folder. For example, \\server\share is accessible and visible through browsing, while \\server\share$ is accessible only by explicit reference.[13]
  • In Unix-like systems the $ is often part of the command prompt, depending on the user's shell and environment settings. For example, the default environment settings for the bash shell specify $ as part of the command prompt.
    The using history expansion !$ (same as !!1$ and !-1$) means the last argument of the previous command in bash, !-2$ expands to the last argument of the penultimate command, !5$ expands into the last argument of the fifth command and so on. For example:
> touch my_first_file
> echo "This is my file." > !$
where !$ expands into my_first_file.
  • In the LDAP directory access protocol, $ is used as a line separator in various standard entry attributes such as postalAddress.[13]


Currencies that use the dollar or peso sign

In addition to those countries of the world that use dollars or pesos, a number of other countries use the $ symbol to denote their currencies, including:

An exception is the Philippine peso, whose sign is written as PhilippinePeso.svg.

The dollar sign is also still sometimes used to represent the Malaysian ringgit (which replaced the local dollar), though its official use to represent the currency has been discontinued .

Some currencies use the cifrão (\mathrm{S}\!\!\!\Vert ), similar to the dollar sign, but always with two strokes:

The cifrão is also used to account for over 130,000,000 domestic standard U.S. Mint (1986+) bullion U.S. silver dollars as one dollar per one troy ounce fine (99.9%), thereby avoiding confusion with debased U.S. trade dollar-denominated tokens and Federal Reserve notes.[citation needed]

In Mexico and another peso-using countries, the cifrão is used as a dollar sign when a document uses pesos and dollars at the same time, to avoid confusions, but, when it used alone, usually is represented as US $ (United States dollars). Example: US $5 (five US dollars).[citation needed]

In the United States, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Pacific Island nations, and English-speaking Canada, the dollar or peso symbol precedes the number, unlike most currency symbols. Five dollars or pesos is written and printed as $5, whereas five cents is written as 5¢. In French-speaking Canada, the dollar symbol usually appears after the number, although it sometimes appears in front of it, or instead may even be totally absent.

Other Uses

The dollar sign is also used in library cataloging to represent subsections.

Also, it is used derisively to indicate greed or excess money such as in "Micro$oft", "George W. Bu$h", "Lar$ Ulrich", and "Ke$ha".

See also


  1. ^ Lawrence Kinnaird (July 1976). "The Western Fringe of Revolution," The Western Historical Quarterly 7(3), 259.
  2. ^ "Origin of Dollar Sign is Traced to Mexico", Popular Science 116 (2): 59, 1930, ISSN 0161-7370,,M1 
  3. ^ Florian Cajori ([1929]1993). A History of Mathematical Notations (Vol. 2), 15-29.
  4. ^ Arthur S. Aiton and Benjamin W. Wheeler (May 1931). "The First American Mint", The Hispanic American Historical Review 11(2), 198 and note 2 on 198.
  5. ^ Nussbaum, Arthur (1957). A History of the Dollar. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 56. "The foreign coins remained in circulation [in the United States], and the more important among them, especially the Spanish (including the Mexican) dollars, were declared by Congress on February 9, 1793, to be legal tender. 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." 
  6. ^ Riesco Terrero, Ángel (1983). Diccionario de abreviaturas hispanas de los siglos XIII al XVIII: Con un apendice de expresiones y formulas juridico-diplomaticas de uso corriente. Salamanca: Imprenta Varona, 350. ISBN 84-300-9090-8
  7. ^ Bureau of Engraving and Printing. "'What is the origin of the $ sign?' in FAQ Library". Retrieved December 14, 2010. 
  8. ^ F. Cajori discusses the origins of the slash-8, the Potosi mint mark, the Pillars of Hercules, the "U.S.", the Roman sestertius, and the Boaz and Jachin theories and discounts them in A History of Mathematical Notations (Vol. 2), 15-20.
  9. ^ Gettings, Fred (1981). The Dictionary of Occult, Hermetic, and Alchemical Sigils and Symbols. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. p. 86. ISBN 0-7100-0095-2. 
  10. ^ James, James Alton (1970) [1937]. Oliver Pollock: The Life and Times of an Unknown Patriot. Freeport: Books for Libraries Press. p. 356. ISBN 9780836955279. 
  11. ^ Pub. L. No. 109-145, 119 Stat. 2664 (Dec. 22, 2005).
  12. ^ Cuhaj, p. 100, 321-22
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Dollar Sign ($)" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-03-28.  (Note: this paper essentially reproduces an older version of this Wikipedia article.)

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • dollar sign — (also dollar mark) ► NOUN ▪ the sign $, representing a dollar …   English terms dictionary

  • dollar sign — dollar ,sign noun count the symbol $, used to show that an amount is in dollars see dollar signs AMERICAN INFORMAL to think only about how much money something or someone is worth …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • dollar sign — ☆ dollar sign n. a symbol ($) for dollar or dollars …   English World dictionary

  • dollar sign — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms dollar sign : singular dollar sign plural dollar signs the symbol $, used to show that an amount is in dollars • see dollar signs …   English dictionary

  • dollar sign — noun 1. a symbol of commercialism or greed (Freq. 1) he worships the almighty dollar the dollar sign means little to him • Syn: ↑dollar, ↑dollar mark • Hypernyms: ↑symbol 2 …   Useful english dictionary

  • dollar sign — (also dollar mark) noun the sign $, representing a dollar …   English new terms dictionary

  • dollar sign — noun Date: 1881 a mark $ placed before a number to indicate that it stands for dollars called also dollar mark …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • dollar sign — n. symbol used to signify currencies that are based on the unit of a dollar, $ …   English contemporary dictionary

  • dollar sign — An abbreviation ($) for a dollar or dollars. 1 Am J2d Abbr § 9 …   Ballentine's law dictionary

  • dollar sign — dol′lar sign n. num the symbol $ before a number indicating that the number represents dollars • Etymology: 1855–60, amer …   From formal English to slang

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