Why Is Pound Abbreviated as lb?

(Last Updated On: June 27, 2019)
Why Is Pound Abbreviated as lb?

Whether you’re shopping at the grocery store, stepping on the scale to see if you’ve lost a few pounds, or showing off how much you can lift at the gym, there’s no denying that weight plays a huge role in our lives. We’re always making measurements – whether that’s food, items, or even ourselves, we need to know how to determine the size and weight.

Units of Measurement

One of the most common units of measurement for weight is the pound. Since the year 1959, the pound has been measured as 0.45359237 kilograms (kg), or 453.592 grams (g). This form of measurement is used throughout the United States and in other countries around the world.

But with an abbreviation of “lb”, have you ever stopped to wonder what the origin is or where it came from? The abbreviations “kg” and “g” make perfect sense. Considering kilograms starts with the letter k and grams starts with a g, it’s almost intuitive to represent them with a “kg” and “g”. They’re simple and straightforward. 

But what about lbs? The word “pound” doesn’t have an “l” or a “b” in it – so where the heck did these letters come from? Why is pound abbreviated as lb?

History of English Vocabulary

What a lot of people don’t realize is that the English language is actually heavily influenced by other languages. Nearly 60% of English vocabulary comes from Latin and Neo-Latin languages such as French (mainly), Germanic, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and more.

One of the biggest languages that English derives from is Latin, which accounts for approximately 28.7% of these influences. There’s a large Latin influence in the English language because when scientists came to England in ancient times and they needed to be able to communicate, they chose names in languages they all knew – which were Latin and Greek. 

Today, many Indo-European languages, including the Germanic ones (English, German and Swedish) all follow the modern Latin alphabet, which contains 26 letters of uppercase and lowercase form. While the Roman alphabet has symbols around the letters that indicate tones (called diacritics), modern English is the only major language that does not have these in the alphabet. They are used when speaking, as diacritics are seen as old-fashioned and out of date for modern English speakers.

“Libra Pondo” – Why Is Pound Abbreviated as lb?

“Pound” derives from the Latin word “libra pondo”, which was an Ancient Roman unit of measurement that measures “a pound of weight”. In Latin, the word libra also means “scales” or “balance” in an astrological sense (Libra sign). Both meanings explain and make sense as to why the pound is represented by an lb.

The British word for currency also stems from Latin origins. The “pound sterling” is a monetary unit of measurement that’s used as the official form of currency across the United Kingdom. Represented by an “L”, this type of pound also comes from libra pondo, so it makes sense why the British abbreviation for pounds is an L. There are other places that used a similar symbol to represent the pound for their national currency as well, such as Gibraltar, Egypt, and Syria. 

The lira, which was the Italian form of monetary currency before Italy adopted the Euro (between 1861 and 2002) also originated off of the weight of a pound (libra pondo). Other countries that used the lira currency were Malta, San Marino, and the Vatican, and it is now used by Turkey. The currencies of Lebanon and Syria share the same name.

Other Latin-Abbreviated Words

There are many English words that are influenced by Latin, especially those of scientific, technical, medical and academic nature. For a list of common abbreviations with Latin origins, check out this link. Even a lot of regular words such as “picture” and “herb” are derived from Latin vocabulary.


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