Here is the original text from Lord Macaulay’s History of England:

They are the men of double entry, magnifying routine. In business they have added mechanical device to mechanical device, they have put wind, water, steam, and electricity into subjection; they have done most of the reckoning in England, and their brains are hieroglyphed with l. s. d.

Source: Macaulay, Thomas Babington. The History of England from the Accession of James the Second. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1901. xviii. Print.


4 Answers 4


Given the location and the period, I think it's likely to be a commonly-used variant of "£sd" for "pounds, shillings, and pence" - that is, money. The abbreviation comes from the Latin librae, solidi, denarii.


L.S.D. was the standard abbreviation for "Pounds, shillings, and pence". See wikipedia.

Note that wikipedia claims it was usually written £sd and "sometimes" as Lsd. That was not my experience - I would have said "l. s. d." was at least as common. (Source: I was 13 when the UK decimalized).

  • I also would dispute the "sometimes" (although I was only 7 at the time). Also the pedant in me would point out (to the world in general) that the "£" is a stylised "L" and not as is too-frequently seen in promotional slogans a stand-in for an "E"
    – TripeHound
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 15:11
  • 1
    Thanks for the link. The answer is definitely out there, but it is so inundated, even google couldn't help. Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 16:32
  • The typewriter had not yet been invented when Macaulay died in 1859. At the time, most text was produced either done by hand (where one can write any symbol), or by professional typesetters (who had rich cases of type that would have certainly included ‘£’). It was only after the typewriter that crude approximations began to creep into print. (The earliest typewriters even approximated the digits 1 and 0 with letters like O!) So with 1971 as when the UK decimalised, you would have seen "l. s. d." in the 60s: I blame it on typewriters. Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 22:04
  • 2
    Not so much "the earliest typewriters" as "all but the latest typewriters". I learnt to type on typewriters without 0 or 1. Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 8:05

The correct form is £sd, for Pounds Shillings and Pence. £ is the symbol for pounds sterling, in the same way that $ is the symbol for dollars. I am an old, ex bookkeeper, I would write £ dozens of times a day, 5 days a week, in ledgers the size of my desk top.

  • 5
    Yes, but the £ symbol is nothing more than a stylised L. LSD has always been the common abbreviation.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 15:04
  • 3
    It's not an L, stylized or otherwise, it's a pound, a bona fide symbol in its own right. Now, I'm not saying it didn't start out as an L and get promoted to symbol. I'm not that old.
    – Catweasel
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 15:40
  • 5
    It was indeed originally a stylized L; it stands for the Latin word librae.
    – zwol
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 20:43
  • 1
    @GeorgeChen - His Lordship is referring to the magnifying glasses used by old book keepers of yore to read their ledgers by candle or gas light.
    – Catweasel
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 6:06
  • 2
    @Catweasel - are you sure that's the meaning here? Could "magnifying" not be being used here in the sense of "glorifying" - as in the King James translation of the Magnificat - "My soul doth magnify the Lord"?
    – Ed Harper
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 11:10

Pounds-shillings-and pence To make it more confusing (for some), we should look at the amounts in each. 12 pennies in a shilling - 20 shillings in a pound, which gives us 240 pennies in a pound. Ireland had a similar system some years ago until they changed to the Euro. One last bit of confusion, there was a halfpenny, and in fact, a farthing (quarter penny), not sure about this but I think the halfpenny and farthing are gone.

  • 1
    Ireland had the same system as the UK (just different names, e.g., púnt instead of pound) and Ireland decimalised at the same as the UK: in 1971. The Irish halfpenny was in use until the late 80s. Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 22:39
  • 3
    The old farthing went in the 1950s or 1960s. The old halfpenny went in the late 1960s, prior to decimalisation in 1971. A new-halfpenny (i.e. half of a new penny, which was equivalent to 2.4 old pence: 240 old pence to the £ v. 100 new pence to the £) was used for some time after decimalisation but was withdrawn in the late 1970s or early 1980s (can't remember exactly). In fact, not only were there farthings, but - at least in some of the British Colonies in the 19th century, there were half-farthings, one third-farthings & quarter-farthings. I possess examples of some of these old coins.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 23:08
  • Some time last year, I found an old farthing in my purse. I think I had been given it in change as an error for a modern 1p (1 penny) coin, which is now of similar size. In fact they are of similar face value, but the farthing is probably now worth rather more than 1p as a collector's item!
    – TrevorD
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 23:12

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.