Decimal Points vs Commas

I thought numbers were universally written so the first time I saw my Spanish teacher put a number on the board with a comma to separate thousands from hundreds, I thought it was an error. But I way WRONG!!!

In Costa Rica and other countries, the decimal point is used instead of the comma and the comma is used instead of the decimal point. So one thousand twenty two dollars and fifteen cents is written


Here is a picture of a package of laundry soap; see that it contains 5,5 pounds of soap.

Apparently this is common in some other countries as well.

And speaking of how we measure, well we were kind of doing that anyway, I got a kick out of one of the German student’s stunned facial expression at the Finca when she asked me what “lb” meant as a measure. I knew it was “pound” but had forgotten the origin.

According to, Lb is an abbreviation of the Latin word libra. The primary meaning of libra was balance or scales (as in the astrological sign), but it also stood for the ancient Roman unit of measure libra pondo, meaning “a pound by weight.” We got the word “pound” in English from the pondo part of the libra pondo but our abbreviation comes from the libra.

And while we are on the subject of strange abbreviations, “Ounce” is related to the Latin uncia, the name for both the Roman ounce and inch units of measurement. The word came into English from Anglo-Norman French, where it was unce or ounce, but the abbreviation was borrowed from Medieval Italian, where the word was onza. These days the Italian word is oncia, and the area once covered by the Roman Empire has long since switched to the metric system.

More than you ever wanted to know about any of this I’m sure but tuck it away in the back of your mind for next time you need to fill some dead air at a party or dinner.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *