Where Did The Percent Sign Come From?

The percent sign, %, is a symbol that is ubiquitous in modern society. It appears on price tags, financial reports, and scientific measurements. Despite its widespread use, many people do not know the history of this symbol or where it came from.

The percent sign is a shorthand way of writing “per cent,” which is Latin for “by the hundred.” The idea of expressing ratios as parts per hundred can be traced back to ancient times when traders used a system of 100 units to make calculations easier. This system was eventually adopted by bankers and financiers, who used it to calculate interest rates and other financial calculations. The earliest known use of the percent sign dates back to the early 15th century. 

It appeared in a manuscript called “Liber algorismi de practica arismetrice” by Johannes Widman, a German mathematician. Widman used the symbol “per mille” (‰) to represent fractions of one thousand, similar to the modern-day permille symbol. The symbol was a small circle with a horizontal line through it, which represented the number 1,000. 

Widman’s use of the symbol was limited to specific contexts, such as calculations involving currency exchange rates. The percent sign as we know it today first appeared in the 17th century. It was created by Italian mathematician and astronomer Giovanni Battista Amici, who used the symbol in his work on celestial mechanics. Amici’s symbol was a small circle with a vertical line through it, similar to the modern-day percent sign. 

The symbol quickly caught on among mathematicians and scientists, and it became the standard symbol for expressing percentages in the 18th century. Interestingly, the percent sign is not the only symbol that has been used to represent percentages. In France, the symbol ‱ (pronounced per-mille) is commonly used to represent parts per thousand. 

This symbol is a small circle with two vertical lines through it, similar to the modern-day permille symbol. In some countries, such as Germany and Austria, the symbol %o is used to represent parts per thousand. This symbol is a small circle with a diagonal line through it, similar to the modern-day zero symbol. In addition to its use in mathematics and science, the percent sign has also become a common symbol in everyday life. 

It appears on price tags, advertisements, and in financial reports. In these contexts, the percent sign is used to express the percentage increase or decrease in a price or value. In conclusion, the percent sign has a long and fascinating history that dates back to ancient times. It is a symbol that has evolved over the centuries, and it has become an essential tool for mathematicians, scientists, and everyday people alike. 

Whether you are calculating interest rates, checking the latest stock prices, or simply trying to figure out the best deal on a new purchase, the percent sign is a symbol that you are likely to encounter on a regular basis.

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