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I've seen more and more well respected publications expressing percentages using the abbreviation "pc". E.g. Telegraph:

How else to explain the decision to award a board seat to the boss of an outfit that is 60pc-owned by the UAE?

https://archive.ph/gFows

Every time I see this I find it jarring, but it seems to be becoming more common. Why would they do this when there's a perfectly appropriate symbol in "%"?

Two possible reasons I can think of, both of which sound odd to me:

  • Maybe many people don't understand "%", and so "pc" is considered more accessible. Can this really be true? I find "pc" even more opaque personally. "%" is surely one of the first non-alpanumeric characters that people learn in school isn't it?
  • Maybe there's a technological problem with printing % signs. I also find this unlikely. As Unicode support becomes effectively essential all across the web, it would be weird for an ago-old ASCII character to be problematic.

Anyone else know of a possible reason?

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  • Just as an aside, I described the Telegraph as "well respected" because they're one of the traditional "broadsheet" newspapers here in the UK, so they demand more respect in establishment circles than a tabloid like the Mail or the Sun. This is not meant to imply that I personally think they necessarily deserve that respect. Commented May 14, 2023 at 8:48
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    Since the Guardian, for example, recommends % rather than pc etc, this must be a style choice, almost certainly subjective. Commented May 14, 2023 at 12:44
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    Normally we say that a choice between two options is merely a style choice when there are some weak reasons for both, and no strong, decisive reason for one rather than the other. Here, however, it is not obvious that any reason whatsoever can be given in favour of pc, when % is so readily available. It is thus reasonable for the OP to ask whether anybody knows of any unobvious reason for that practice.
    – jsw29
    Commented May 14, 2023 at 15:32
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    Perhaps you could find an example that's not inside a hyphenated compound? (Someone might claim that the Telegraph wanted to avoid having the "%" symbol next to a hyphen. Its style guide says "in City page copy pc is acceptable", though, so it obviously allows that abbreviation outside compounds.) Commented May 15, 2023 at 1:24
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    It's certainly odd to write "60%-owned" but "60% owned" is fine. But maybe style guide bans that. Some people also oppose excessive use of punctuation over letters or spaces, eg for neatness. Also worth noting that parts of Europe prefer per mille, so it's not as universal as OP believes.
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 6:18

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Someone wrote an answer here that was interesting, and then deleted it quite quickly after a skeptical comment was added. But I think it forms the basis of a good answer to this question:

The Cambridge dictionary defines "pc":

UK written abbreviation for percent

And there are some other references to "pc" being British. However, I'm British (nationally and culturally) and I found it pretty odd, so it's clearly not that British. And, as noted by Edwin Ashworth, the Guardian style guide recommends "%":

per cent

% in headlines and copy

The Wikipedia article on "percentage" mentions:

although the abbreviations pct., pct, and sometimes pc are also used.

And points to a Telegraph article as evidence. So it's clear the Telegraph is one of the main places doing this.

The Telegraph style guide says:

Percentages: per cent does not take a full point. Use pc only in headlines and % only in tables. In City page copy pc is acceptable. All percentages written in numbers, not in words: 5 per cent, never five per cent.

It doesn't explain what "City page copy" means, but I suspect it means coverage of the London-based financial sector, so maybe it's a tradition there.

The Wikipedia article on "Percent sign" has a section on "evolution", which mentions:

At some point, a scribe used the abbreviation "pc" with a tiny loop or circle (depicting the ending -o used in Italian ordinals, as in primo, secondo, etc.; it is analogous to the English "-th" as in "25th"). ... The "pc" with a loop eventually evolved into a horizontal fraction sign by 1650 (see below for an example in a 1684 text[27]) and thereafter lost the "per".

Conclusion

Overall, it seems like "pc" might well simply be a particularly archaic and British formulation, used in some circles with strong traditionalist attitudes (although not all that much in British society at large).

What I thought was an increase in general usage might have just been that the algorithms that serve me news articles have been showing me more from the Telegraph or similar outlets than they used to.

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    I think "archaic" is right. Before 1900. Ngram finds examples from that time period. (For example: tariff documents from England, Canada, Malta, etc.) But after 1960, those (if any) are swamped by pc=personal computer.
    – GEdgar
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 15:02
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    The "skeptical comment" which caused the other answer to be deleted was "it's a deliberate decision to use pc instead of %, and the reason for that should be answerable. The Guardian, for example, deliberately eschews it." I'm not sure that's all that skeptical; and your answer does go some way to address it.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 15:15

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