What Does “P.S.” Stand For?

When we add an afterthought to the end of our letters or emails, why do we preface it with these two letters?

In our daily lives, we use a surprising number of miscellaneous letters that stand for…something…but we might not know what. For instance, we tell time with two pairs of letters whose meaning is a mystery to many. If you’re one of those people, find out what “AM” and “PM” stand for! And when we tell someone whether or not we’re attending their event, we RSVP, which stands for…ummm…what does it stand for?

But there’s another abbreviation that also often ends up in our letters and emails—specifically, at the end. If we want to add a small final thought or restate the overall message, we preface it with “P.S.” We might use it as the “TL;DR” of letters and emails. But what does “P.S.” stand for, really? With “AM” and “PM” coming from Latin and “RSVP” being a French expression, is it even English?

What does “P.S.” stand for?

“P.S.” stands for “postscript.” While, yes, this is English, it actually comes from the Latin word postscriptum, or “written after.” And what about the punctuation? After all, if “postscript” is only one word, should the “P” and “S” both be capitalized? Should they have periods after them?

Well, the Cambridge Dictionary has said that “PS,” with no periods, is the primary version in British English, while American English usually opts for the periods. But the Chicago Manual of Style has used it without the periods, so if whatever you’re composing doesn’t need to adhere to a style guide, there’s really no “right” or “wrong” here. After all, the recipients of your letter will surely know what you mean, periods or no periods. Learn the reason there are so many differences between British English and American English.

How did we start using it?

Well, it makes sense when you think about it: Back in the days before computers, if you were to write an entire letter and then realize you’d forgotten something, adding it in a postscript was a whole lot easier than rewriting the whole thing. According to dictionary.com, “postscript” appeared in English for the first time in the early 1500s. The abbreviation reportedly became popular over the next hundred years, cementing itself by the early 1600s. While we’re on the subject of letters and mail, did you know that “ZIP code” actually stands for something too?

Needless to say, now that we have email, there’s no need to add in forgotten things at the end of messages. But postscripts are alive, well, and often very effective. They can be used to make a pithy point or a final summation—they’ve truly evolved with the times! Next, learn the meaning behind more perplexing abbreviations.

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Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine. She is a proud Hufflepuff and member of Team Cap.