I frequently see the abbreviation "No" to mean "Number" (or "Nos" to mean "Numbers") instead of the much more common meaning of the word (a negative statement or denial). Sources cited here say it's the correct abbreviation, but don't really explain why it got that way or why it remains true today.

This seems odd because of
(a) the strong negative association with that choice of abbreviation, especially when letters are used instead of a direct symbol,
(b) the availability of other abbreviations like "Num." or "Nr." or "#", and
(c) the fact that the English word "Number" doesn't have an o in it (the abbreviation makes more sense in Spanish, for example, as short for "Numero," but even there it's reportedly not used without superscripts due to confusion with "no" as a negative word).

Why does English use "No." as an abbreviation for "Number?"

  • en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numero_sign
    – KarlG
    Aug 13 '18 at 15:45
  • @user070221 I tried to distinguish this question from that in the last sentence of the first paragraph.
    – WBT
    Aug 13 '18 at 15:46
  • @KarlG I linked to that twice as part of showing the research that was done but still did not adequately answer the question.
    – WBT
    Aug 13 '18 at 15:47
  • Also - english.stackexchange.com/questions/also: 116587/origin-of-no-abbreviation-in-meaning-of-number
    – user 66974
    Aug 13 '18 at 15:47
  • While definitely interesting, neither of those other two later-commented ones satisfactorily answer the question I'm trying to answer.
    – WBT
    Aug 13 '18 at 15:50

Why does English use "No." as an abbreviation for "Number"?

It's a preserved scribal abbreviation like the ampersand & (formed by eliding the letters of et to mean and).

The OED has it in use from the 8th century, based on the ablative numerō used for an implied preposition in: X in or according to number.

It also gets used by the French based on numéro, which produced Wiktionary's erroneous etymology. Americans do use the # sign, although it's now often understood as a hashtag; the British upper class, on the other hand, has looked on Latin and French as providing gravitas and cachet since the Conquest.

  • 1
    Are you claiming that "No." is a marker of social class?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 13 '18 at 16:14
  • +1; I think this is a useful answer! It would be even better with sources.
    – WBT
    Aug 13 '18 at 16:56
  • @WBT It already listed sources, but I added some links if you have an OED account.
    – lly
    Aug 13 '18 at 17:14
  • Marking as Accepted so quickly because the question was closed to prevent new answers.
    – WBT
    Aug 13 '18 at 18:07

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