The pound sign (£) is the symbol for the pound sterling—the currency of the United Kingdom (UK). The same symbol is (or was) used for similarly named currencies in some other countries and territories, such as the Irish pound, Gibraltar pound and Italian lira.
The symbol derives from a capital "L", representing libra, the basic unit of weight in the Roman Empire, which in turn is derived from the Latin name of the same spelling for scales or a balance. The pound became an English unit of weight and was so named because it originally had the value of one tower pound (~350 grams) of fine (pure) silver.
In American English, the term "pound sign" usually refers to the symbol # (see number sign), and the corresponding telephone key is called the "pound key". The symbols £ and # are both referred to as the pound sign in Canadian English (# is also referred to as the number sign).
In the Unicode standard, the symbol £ is called "pound sign" and the symbol ₤ "lira sign". These have respective code points:
Unicode notes that the "lira sign" is not widely used, and the preferred sign for lira is the pound sign.[contradiction] However, the so-called "lira sign" is also sometimes used to denote pounds sterling (for example on a previous version of the British five pound note).
Prior to the introduction of the IBM PC, there was no unique accepted standard for entering, displaying, printing, or storing the £ sign in the UK computer industry. On personal computers prior to the PC the "#" key was often used; sometimes it was displayed on screen as "#", but many printers could be set up to print "£" where "#" was sent to the printer by an application program. Keying in, storing, displaying, and printing the sign often required special set-up. Although the "#" sign is commonly called the "hash symbol", it is also referred to as the "pound sign" in North America (though in reference to the unit of weight, not the unit of currency). It is also known as the number symbol or key.
The Commodore 64 computer included a dedicated key for the pound sign (to the right of the number row).
The BBC Micro used a variant of ASCII that replaced the backtick ("`", character 96, hex 60) with the pound sign (ISO/IEC 8859 had not yet been standardised, and it was advantageous to have commonly used characters available in the lower, 7-bit ASCII table), denoted as CHR$96 or (hex) CHR$&60. Since the BBC Micro used a Teletext mode as standard, this means that the pound sign is in the 7-bit ASCII variant used on Teletext systems such as Ceefax, ORACLE and Teletext Ltd as well.
The PC UK keyboard layout has the "£" symbol on the 3 number key and is typed using:
- ⇧ Shift+3
On a US-International keyboard, the "£" can be entered using:
- ⇧ Shift+AltGr+4
- ⇧ Shift+Ctrl+Alt+4
In a Microsoft Word document, the pound symbol can be entered by these means:
- place the cursor at the point in the document where the symbol should appear; then left-click on Insert; then left-click on Symbol. At this point the Symbol popup will appear. Locate and click on the pound symbol and then click Insert.
- Alt+0163 (keeping Alt pressed until all 4 digits have been typed on the numeric keypad only)
- ⇧ Shift+Alt+156
Linux and UNIX
- Ctrl+⇧ Shift+U followed by a 3
- ⇧ Shift+AltGr+3
- ⌥ Option+3
On UK Apple Mac keyboards, this is reversed, with the "£" symbol on the number 3 key, typed using:
- ⇧ Shift+3 (and the number sign "#" generated by ⌥ Option+3)
The compose key sequence is:
On Latin-alphabet typewriters lacking a "£" symbol type element, a reasonable approximation can be made by:
- L+← Backspace+f (so that the 'f' is typed over the 'L')
Computer printing from wordprocessing packages
In the 1980s the two main standards for the print codes for a pound sign were ASCII 186 for the HP Laserjet and ASCII 156 for most other printers including the IBM Quietwriter and Epson dot matrix printers. In order to print a pound sign each word processor needed to be set up individually to print the sign for the particular printer.
For many wordprocessing packages a terminate and stay resident program (TSR) was needed to convert the code generated by the package into the right code for the printer. Packages such as Wordperfect had utilities to set up this conversion without needing a TSR.
- William Safire (1991-03-24). "On Language; Hit the Pound Sign". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-05-21.
- Barber, edited by Katherine (2004). The Canadian Oxford dictionary (2nd ed. ed.). Toronto: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195418166.