Check out the number four key on your keyboard. Stamped above it is one of the most powerful symbols in the world: the almighty dollar sign. But the symbol doesn’t just mark the US currency. Originally—and to this day—the emblem also represents the peso. Several Spanish-speaking countries consider it their own. Peso literally means “weight” in Spanish. The origin of the dollar (or peso) sign is uncertain. However, the reigning theory is that it comes from the engraving on Spanish colonial silver coins, called real de a ocho, or “piece of eight.”
On the coin, flanking the Spanish coat of arms, there were two columns which represented the Pillars of Hercules with S-shaped ribbons around them. Also represented on the coin was the motto plus ultra, which is Latin for “further beyond.” This was added after Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the Americas. The symbol first cropped up in business correspondence between British North America and Mexico in the 1770s. English-speaking people in the Spanish and English colonies of America knew the peso as a dollar, and in 1792, the dollar was designated as the official monetary unit of the US. Around that time, the dollar sign gained widespread use.
Here’s a piece of trivia to impress coin enthusiasts: the dollar symbol did not appear on US currency until the $1 coin that was issued in 2007.
While we’re on the subject of money, read about the story behind the word million.