Thursday, May 10, 2012

Language of Confusion: Lbs

I’ve always wondered about the abbreviation for pounds. There isn’t even an l or a b in the freaking word. What mysteries etymology will reveal to us this week?

First of all, there’s more than one definition of pound. There’s the animal pound (which is related to pond, interestingly enough), the I’m-going-to-beat-you-senseless pound, and finally the weight pound. It should surprise no one that these words are not related to each other in any way. Animal pound comes from the Old English pundfald (same meaning) and is related to pyndan, to dam up. The other comes from a different Old English word, punian—crush—and can be traced to the West Germanicpuno-. Weight pound is pund in Old English, and punda- in West Germanic. These probably came from the classical Latin pondo, a word that yes, means pound as well as an adverb of pondus, or weight.

Once again, word similarities come from words that once sounded kind of alike and just grew closer and closer as time went on. But that’s not the question we came here to answer. Lb., as well as the British pound symbol £, is from the word libra in, as usual, Latin. Those of you who know your astrology know that Libra is the scales in the Zodiac, but it is also an alternate word for pound.  Although the Germanic languages kept the pound-like spellings, the Romance languages Italian, French, Spanish and Portugueseuse variations on Libra. English did, however, keep the symbol because things just aren’t confusing enough without it.

Tony Jebson’s page on The Origins of Old English


  1. This is not my favourite abbreviation. :/

  2. I always wondered where lbs came from. It never made any sense to me. Now I can add it to the store of random facts I know (like how to figure out when Easter is and the definition of heavy water).

  3. This can get profoundly confusing....


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