Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Daily Vocabulary

per cent.: In modern, American usage, each percent is one hundredth of the whole. Fifty percent, for instance, would be half. But there is an older, more interesting usage, most common in England, and not even that long ago in common use, which was per cent., split in half and with a period at the end. Cent. stood for centum, the Latin for hundred, so that it was properly per centum, out of a hundred. 5 per cent., in the proper British sense, would be 5 per centum, five out of a hundred, exactly as it would be here. But we don't think of it in the original, the per cent. that is delightful and strange. I very much like the per centum. I wish we still used it here.

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