I'm currently working with some handwritten notes that look like they could be quite old, or at least written by somebody who grew up a little bit earlier than I did. I don't really know when they were written, but judging by the style of handwriting, I feel like they could be a few decades old. They were almost certainly written by a British person.

Anyway, a few times in these notes, I find what I'm certain is a superscript letter 'x' used as an abbreviation for 'yards'. It is most certainly an abbreviation for yards, because I happen to have the printed notice that my writer was making notes on and the distance in the original is in yards.

I'm just interested why a superscript 'x' should be used as an abbreviation for 'yards', how common it was, and when (if ever) it fell out of regular use. Just because I'm seeing it for the first time, doesn't mean it's fallen completely out of use!

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Other examples:

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Comparisons with this writer's 'y':

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    I don't recall ever seeing this usage. – Hot Licks Oct 26 '19 at 19:49
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    That's a superscript Y that has been poorly penned. – David M Oct 26 '19 at 20:10
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    @DavidM That's not a bad shout at all, but I have a couple of reasons for doubting you unfortunately. One reason is that this is not the only example and the 'y's look too consistently like 'x's and the other is that this letter does not look very much like this person's 'y' found in other places (pictures to follow) – Au101 Oct 26 '19 at 20:19
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    @DavidM I will concede after doing a bit more combing, word-final 'y' and other 'y's in places where there was less room are a lot more cramped and closer in appearance to an 'x', but I find the consistency too much to think it's a 'y' written in a hurry. Also a cursory google search for yard "superscript x" turns up a couple of interesting looking posts on a website greatwarforum.org suggesting superscript 'x' = 'yards' – Au101 Oct 26 '19 at 20:30
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    I'm looking for something like using tick marks ' for feet, " for inches. Maybe x for yards? – David M Oct 26 '19 at 20:34

As the OP has already noted in the comments, there are sources suggesting (at least military) use of superscript-x for yards.

Here is a source instructing how to transcribe Navy log books for historical research. It says superscript-x means "yards." (See the "symbols" section near the top of the page; section heading in red text.)


2600x - an example of recording distance.

x - Yards. A unit of length equaling 3 feet or 0.9144 meters. Transcribe this as 'x'.


Yards would NOT be indicated by a superscript. We would just say 10 yards or 10 yds.

Could the "x" be a footnote superscript referring to some reference calculation perhaps that is listed in the References? Ref a,..., Ref x, Ref y

Or perhaps shorthand for "times" (multiplication) 70x = 70 times?

  • The text in the provided picture certainly seems to be talking about a distance of 70 something, and the OP has a second document backing up the idea that those are distances in yards. – nnnnnn Nov 25 '19 at 13:21
  • In the English language, I have never seen anyone anywhere use a superscript for engineering units. Can you show me any reference that says this is done as a common convention? Just because I may not be right does not mean I am wrong. – Teacher Lee Nov 28 '19 at 1:33
  • I didn't make any claims about common conventions, indeed I agree that superscript x is not the normal abbreviation, I just pointed out that the OP's specific example is from a real document that in context with associated documents does appear to be using the "x" to mean yards. Presumably the OP would know if that document contains footnotes. Maybe the person who wrote the document was confused, or made up their own notation inspired by the normal abbreviations for inches and feet. – nnnnnn Nov 28 '19 at 3:07
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    It seems to me that the "x" is either a personal shorthand system used by the writer or is, as per David M above, a "y". The mark should not be compared to the cursive script in the notes. – Greybeard Jun 3 '20 at 10:41

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