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What's the historical origin that makes us write 1.000.000,00 and not 1,000,000.00 (like in English) or 1 000 000,00 (like in French)?

  • We in India use comma as thousands separator. Eg. 25,000 (Twentyfive thousand). However, what is important is convenient of use. There need not be any fixed rules. The only problem is it does not convey the proper meaning to others, living in other countries. Vaikom Madhu – user2755 Aug 22 '16 at 11:02
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Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Romania, Sweden and most of Europe use the dot as a thousands separator, but the space is adopted as well. Even if it must be said that the International Standard recommends spaces in lieu of dots or commas.

As stated on this wikipedia page, before the invention of printing, a line ( ¯ ) was used over the digits. After printing, the countries/nations chose marks for convenience and according to what others had already chosen to avoid confusion. This means that it basically was an arbitrary decision, no particular reasons were behind it, apparently.

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  • In order to avoid confusion wouldn't it have been better to choose symbols consistently? – mariosangiorgio Nov 19 '13 at 9:26
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    @Sklivvz Is that standard? I'm asking because personally I've never seen it, as far as I remember but well, who knows. :D – Alenanno Nov 19 '13 at 10:32
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    @Alenanno Can you point to some source clearly stating that Italy uses baseline dots as the thousand separator? – egreg Nov 19 '13 at 11:44
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    FWIW, Windows by default uses the dot as currency thousands separator when you select the Italian regional settings. – Matteo Italia Nov 19 '13 at 13:02
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    @egreg: nope, programmers don't use thousands separators and always use dot as decimal separator. I myself prefer to use English versions of my tools because translations are typically way more cryptic than the original, and to avoid becoming mad when looking for error messages on the Internet (also, programmers have no sense of humor :) ) Seriously: I cited Windows because they typically get this regional stuff right, since they have both the manpower and the interest to do so. They surely will have done their research. – Matteo Italia Nov 19 '13 at 21:19
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You shouldn't, except perhaps when writing by hand.

Separating thousands with periods is cause for ambiguities. When I was young, I was taught to use a raised dot like in 123˙456, not a period; probably different teachers use different conventions. The main reason I see for a dot instead of a thin space is that usually numbers were written on carta a quadretti, so one digit per square.

When printing, use a thin space:

1 000 000

It's just as readable and not confusing. I'd even say it is more readable.

This is recommended by UNI/ISO, as this quote from the book by Roberto Lesina, Il nuovo manuale di stile, Zanichelli 2009 (p. 174):

La spaziatura è il solo metodo universalmente corretto per la separazione fra migliaia. L'uso di altri separatori, quali il punto [...] può portare a grossolani malintesi. [...] Per questi motivi, anche l'ISO sconsiglia l'uso del punto e della virgola come separatori di migliaia», citing «ISO 31-0, Quantities and units, General principles.

I know of no “official” statement that baseline periods are to be used in Italian.


Now, why did this convention enter into common practice? The answer is really easy: typewriters didn't have raised dots. The influence of typewriters on the way we write now has been great: for tens of years, we had only printed, typewritten and handwritten texts, the middle category being prominent in business.

The raised dot had the same fate as ‘È’, that became E', or the digits 0 and 1, that became O (oh) and l (ell), or the guillemets: disparition.

The question might be phrased: why should we use undirected " instead of inverted commas or guillemets? The answer would be the same. By the way, guillemets were hardly found on typewriter keyboard and they are disappearing.

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    You may argue about readibility, but you cannot say it is wrong, as the dot is the official thousands mark in the Italian language. – nico Nov 18 '13 at 18:01
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    @nico What's the law enforcing this? Can you point to an “official” source for your claim? I can cite ISO/UNI rules that say the contrary. – egreg Nov 18 '13 at 18:05
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    I second @egreg's opinion, and add a quotation from Roberto Lesina, Il nuovo manuale di stile, Zanichelli 2009 (p. 174): «La spaziatura è il solo metodo universalmente corretto per la separazione fra migliaia. L'uso di altri separatori, quali il punto [...] può portare a grossolani malintesi. [...] Per questi motivi, anche l'ISO sconsiglia l'uso del punto e della virgola come separatori di migliaia», citing «ISO 31-0, Quantities and units, General principles». – DaG Nov 18 '13 at 18:06
  • @egreg: OK, I was wrong using the word "official" (although I wouldn't be surprised whether at some point in history some official remark about that had been made). However ISO does not enforce spaces either, they just recommend to use them. Either dots or spaces are what is commonly adopted in Italy and what (used to) be thought in school. PS: note that I do agree with you that dot for decimal and nothing for thousands is the best for readibility. – nico Nov 18 '13 at 18:24
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    @nico Did I say to use a period as the decimal part separator? I don't think so. I said that in elementary school I was taught to write 123˙456 (and 123,456 for decimal numbers). – egreg Nov 18 '13 at 23:04

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