The Real Reason “Pounds” Is Abbreviated to “Lbs”

Blame it on Latin.

The word “pounds” does not have the letter L in it. Nor does it have a B. Yet if you see the three letters “lbs” written out, you almost certainly read it as “pounds.” Where did this seemingly random abbreviation come from?

Well, it has to do with where the word “pounds,” itself, comes from. “Pounds” derives from the name of an ancient Roman unit of measurement, Libra pondo. This Latin phrase translates to “a pound by weight.” Our word “pound” comes from pondo, and its seemingly unrelated abbreviation, “lb,” comes from the libra part. If you’re asking, “Libra like the Zodiac sign?” the answer is actually yes…sort of. The word libra means “weight” or “scales,” hence why the star sign Libra represents the scales of justice. Check out these other explanations for things you never thought about until now.

“Pound”‘s Latin origins are also the reason the symbol for the British currency, pounds, is an L—L for libra! The currency shares its name with a unit of weight because a British pound originally held the same worth as one lb of silver. We actually owe much of our modern alphabet to the ancient Romans; here’s why.

So both parts of the Latin term live on today, through the vocabularies of money- and weight-conscious individuals throughout the English-speaking world. In fact, Latin is the reason behind many more of the most confusing grammar rules in the English language. As for the “pound” symbol on your keyboard…well, that’s a whole different story. Find out the truth about its name (no, it’s not actually called a “hashtag”).

[Source: The Week, The BBC]

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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.