So, I’m in the grocery store at the deli case checking to see how much a pound of bacon costs. I’ve always loved bacon and there seems to be a resurgence of popularity of this pig-belly delight. Even more than just a popularity, though, bacon appears to have been elevated to cult worship status in the last few years. There are bacon print suits (not making these up, folks!), bacon socks, bacon scented candles, bacon posters, bacon bumper stickers, bacon themed band-aids, bacon playing cards and bacon flavored jellybeans.
T-shirts abound with all sorts of emblazoned bacon messages like, “I’d grow my own bacon if I could find bacon seeds”, “Roses are red, Bacon is too, I love Bacon, More than I love you” and “Pig: A magical animal that turns vegetables into bacon” among many, many others. I even have a bacon scented face mask courtesy of the folks at Hormel!
I get it, though maybe not to the extent of undying, cured meat adulation, I also enjoy eating bacon most anytime.
But I’m not here to talk about bacon. I’m here to talk about cryptic abbreviations we see every day but fail to adequately question. Like the deli label that notes the bacon (see, there is a continuum here) I’m about to purchase sells for $5.79 per Lb. Lb? How in the world do they get Lb. out of “pound”? I’m not The National Enquirer, but my inquiring mind wants to know.
And I don’t plan to stop there either. No, sir, I want to get to the bottom of this weighty conspiracy and find out about that notorious “oz.”, too. Not the land where the wizard resides but the oz. that purportedly is a logical abbreviation for “ounce”. Like pound’s Lb., I want answers! And if you think you already know the origins of this mystery, well then, great, pat yourself on the back and go get yourself a lb. of cookies while the rest of us get to the bottom of this.
Let’s start with the word “pound.” It seems pound is itself an abridging of the term “pound weight” and not very puzzling yet. But it was those wacky Romans of ancient times who were really mucking things up for us “moderns” by constantly using Latin words for everything.
To expound, the ancient Romans, who spoke Latin, (not to be pretentious, it was just their language at the time; they had to learn Italian later) used the word libra, (symbolized as the scales — remember your astrological signs?), as an abbreviation for “libra pondo” and then libra was abbreviated to Lb., leaving the word pondo aside. The word “pound” then, is derived from the “pondo” part. The Brits even use this abbreviation for their currency, the British Pound, and use the stylized letter “£”, from libra, for the monetary symbol of pound. A bit convoluted, right?
I sure didn’t know going into this that it would involve ancient languages, abbreviations of abbreviations and foreign currencies. I am, however, if nothing else, a dedicated reporter and will continue this convoluted quest into the genesis of the other curiosity, the abbreviation of “ounce” as oz. Now sit back and get comfy because this quest for oz. entails multiple languages, countries, epochs and units of measure.
The word “ounce” can be traced to the Latin word (there we go again with the Latin!), “unica” which the ancient Romans used not only for a measurement of weight but also distance. Then, unica (ounce), was defined as one-twelfth of a part of most anything. Ancient Romans were a curious lot.
Next, the Anglo-Saxon French sent their word for unica to old England where it was pronounced “unce” and, like those madcap Romans, the French ounce, unce, was a measurement of two disparate units, weight and time. Okay, that explains the word ounce to some extent but what about the abbreviation to oz.? That’s where another country and language come into play.
We’ll blame this on, or attribute to, if you prefer, the Italians. Medieval Italians translated unce, or ounce, as “onza” and then used the abbreviation “oz.”. Why the rest of the world adopted this Italian word and abridging to oz remains an unresolved mystery.
So, there you have it! Pound = pondo = libra pondo = libra = lb and ounce = unica = unce = onza = oz. Now aren’t you glad I cleared that up? I’m going to go eat my bacon now.