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While reading the Wikipedia article about the Plus and minus signs I found the so called commercial minus sign (Unicode character U+2052 and HTML symbol ⁒). It looks similar to an Obelus (÷) or Percent sign (%) as you can see:

example commercial minus sign

After some more research and googling for the German term "kaufmännisches Minuszeichen" I found that the commercial minus sign was and is widely used in bookkeeping to indicate a minus sign such as the following example shows. (It was also common to write ./. on typewriters instead.)

example usage of a commercial minus sign
100€ "deducting" 20% equals 80€

The problem is that I can’t find any good information about this symbol and its history. As @El Otmani Ali pointed out in his post one theory is that this symbol is a "quicker / cursive based variant of the division sign in some old German books" (see his answer and this mailing list on unicode.org). On the other hand why should we use a different symbol, when we want to set a character italic?

So, do you know the origins of this rarely used and not really documented sign?

Note: The sans-serif typeface DejaVu Sans was used in the examples.

  • I remember reading somewhere about this before... let's see if we can find it again. – PieBie Mar 25 '16 at 13:51
  • 2
    Never heard of it! Time for some research... – Cai Mar 25 '16 at 13:53
  • Ah damn no, that was the 'approval curl' as you can see here. Although the Obelus does get mentioned as being the opposite of the approval curl – PieBie Mar 25 '16 at 13:57
  • @PieBie: Yes the approval curl is also a very interesting sign! :) Nobody really knows it’s origins ... :D – elegent Mar 25 '16 at 19:05
  • @CAI: It seems that this symbol was and is used in bookkeeping… – elegent Mar 25 '16 at 20:32
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+50

Based on an answer in this thread, this minus sign was used in bookkeeping, because the - was already in use.

After all the amounts were put in, they were checked twice. When the amount was correct, one would mark it by putting a little horizontal bar behind it. The bar meant the amount was correct.

Since the usual minus sign could be confusing and leading someone to believe an amount was checked when it wasn't, a different minus sign was used, the Commercial minus sign

Here is an example:

    100,00 -
+   100,00 -
./. 100,00 -
----------
    100,00 -
  • Interesting answer :) I didn't thought of that…, but it sounds good. Two side notes: Firstly I think the result of your example calculation should be 100,00 since you add 100 + 100 (= 200) and subtract 100 (200 - 100 = 100). And secondly, why did they mark a correct amount with a -, all other signs like a hash (#) or caret (^) would do the same job and wouldn’t be mixed up with a -? – elegent Apr 9 '16 at 20:20
  • Hah, yes, you're absolutely right about the example :) I have no clue as to why they'd use a bar. Maybe because it's fast and easy? – PieBie Apr 9 '16 at 20:41
  • No problem :) And – although I am from Austria and therefor used to it – perhaps its better to use a period (.) instead of a comma (,) as decimal separator ;) – elegent Apr 9 '16 at 20:47
  • I think that would fall under 'trivial edit' :) The example is clear, even to Brits and Americans – PieBie Apr 11 '16 at 6:56
  • Yes you are right ;) Anyway thanks for your effort and time … – elegent Apr 12 '16 at 17:59
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I did not know about it before, but after some good research, it seems like it is just an quicker/cursive based variant of the division sign in some old german books. These are just speculations based on one of the Unicode.com mailing list discussions, the mails are pretty interesting so I'd invite you to take a look to this e-mail and the 5 next answers, it will hopefully give you more insight.

The book that's refered to in the e-mail conversation can be found on Google Books here. (it's in German)

  • Many thanks for your answer! :) I also found this mailing list very interesting, but I don’t thinks that it’s just "a quicker/cursive based variant of the division sign" ... ;) – elegent Mar 25 '16 at 18:59
  • I edited my question to be more specific, so if it is ok for you could also update your answer... :) – elegent Mar 25 '16 at 19:13
  • The bookkeeper reference makes a lot of sense to me. It seems like this is mostly used in a context where there are 2 different units. I can see why as a result it could differ from the non-italic version as (with some out there thinking) you could imagine that the dots either side of the / are symbolic of different units. (I might be rambling but this is an interesting question and enjoyable for speculation)! :) – Jenna Apr 6 '16 at 21:07
  • Hey Jenna, looks like you might be on to something. It would make sense to use this when you're subtracting different units (in bookkeeping you're not always sure of the units). But why would this only be used for subtraction, and not for addition then? Hmmm, tough nut, this one. – PieBie Apr 8 '16 at 7:34

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