Units of Confusion

The commentary on this story reminded me of an old question I had:

(Their Entitlement Wouldn't Fit Into A Car)

The symbol for most units of measurement follow the expressed value. For example:

Mass: 50 Kg
Temperature: 50°
Volume: 50 L
Length: 50 M
Velocity: 50 MPH

And so forth. So why does the symbol for a unit of currency precede the value instead of follow it?

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I think it might be because all yours aren’t symbols, but letters. For money, they are actually symbols.

As for the temperature, the 50° doesn’t really mean anything. It’s either 50°F or 50°C (or 50K) , which both again are letters.

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Well yeah but the letters have symbolic meaning. Also the degree symbol is definitely a symbol, it’s just modified by the system of choice.

Let’s say we were talking about angles / gradient rather than temperature, that would still be the right symbol.

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The letters are abbreviations, not symbols.

You are right about the degrees though, didn’t think of it like that.

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OK, accepting that the letters are abbreviations, then when the units of measurement are spoken / written they follow the value they are measuring:

Mass: 50 Kilograms
Volume: 50 Litres
Length: 50 Meters
Velocity: 50 Miles per Hour

Degrees are the same whether they are measuring temperature or gradient:

Temperature: °Celsius - Degrees Celsius
Gradient: ° - Degrees

This is not the same for currency i.e. you would write £50 but say ‘Fifty Pounds’ rather than ‘Pounds Fifty’. It just seems like an interesting exception to a general rule to me and I’ve never found a definitive explanation.


I actually know the answer to this one. Its to make forging numbers harder in the era of hand written accounting.

For instance if something was written as 24.75$ it could be modified to say 124.75$. By putting the currency sign on the left and the decimals on the right you essentially bracket the value and make it generally harder to forge/edit.


That makes complete sense! Do you know how it came about - was it from some sort of global / industry consensus or did someone just start doing it that way and it caught on?

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Its been a while since I read that particular random fact so I might be wrong. But I think I recall it being a British standard that spread via British East India company/ colonialism and became standard practice.

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Its interesting that we don’t apply that practice to fractional currency though isn’t it? Fifty pence is expressed as 50p

You’d think it would be easy to convert that into £50o or £50.o or just £50 dependent on the author’s handwriting,

I think that 50p is more for conversation and other casual uses. When the transaction occurs it’s always expressed as £0.50 on the receipt and, presumably, on the till and computer system.

50p for the public, £0.50 for the accounts.

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Usually people don’t write things like 550p. If someone did do that, it’s either an obvious forgery or a math problem.

The US and Canada do have a symbol for cents, ¢, but nobody ever uses it. It also comes after the number, like 99¢.

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