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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Where did the percent sign (%) come from?

It makes no sense mathematically --- you can't divide by zero.

So why do we show percentages (hundredths) with a mathematically invalid symbol: %  Zero divided by zero?

The interesting Shady Characters The secret life of punctuation blog has an answer. And, as usual, human laziness is the mother of linguistic invention:

Originally written out as per cento (“per hundred”), the phrase was eventually abbreviated to p cento, and then to pco, but written as a stylized symbol made up of a p; a c with a long, sweeping end stroke; and a superscript o.

You can see it here: the circled amount is 10%.

Full story/better explanation:

 Shady Characters The secret life of punctuation: Miscellany № 59: the percent sign