Earlier this month, a blog I read, Pain in the English, wondered how we arrived at pp as an abbreviation for pages. A good question: Really, what the hell? And while I still don’t really understand why, I can at least give a little bit of info on the practice. Way back in freshman high school Latin, I saw a photo in the textbook of a Roman coin. On the coin was the face of some monarch or political official, and he or she was noted as being the rule of the British Isles. However, the coin referred to this area specifically as Brittania or something thereabouts, with a double “T.” The textbook noted that doubling the letter somehow made the word plural, in the same way as English-speakers today use pp to mean pages. Didn’t make sense, but that’s what the book said.
According to Wikipedia, this way of pluralizing abbreviations — by doubling the letter, without using periods — isn’t exactly common but nonetheless exists in English, Latin, and the languages that descended from Latin. It seems to be particularly prevalent in the world of writing and publishing — vv for volumes, ss for sections, MSS for manuscripts, dd for didots and opp for opera in the sense of that word being the plural of opus. The two that didn’t have anything to do with the written word were hh, for hands, as in the units used to measure the height of a horse, and PP for popes. I can’t imagine why only these seemed to have survived — or at least made it to Wikipedia — or why only pp seems to be widely understood, especially since I can imagine teachers would specifically avoid using it so as to prevent an opportunity for little kids to make the exact kind of joke I made in this blog post’s title.
I guess this style is an easy way to show plurality while still keeping the abbreviation as short as it possibly could be, but I can’t help myself from thinking that it’s a little strange. But then again, I may be spoiled by English, whose letter “S” makes pluralizing a lot easier than it is in, say, Latin. In fact, as far as letter abbreviations go, it’s very easy — CDs, DVDs, SATs, BMs, SOBs. The only problem our style of plural abbreviations poses is one that anyone having to write about report cards knows: “I got two Bs, two Cs, and two As,” with the last one being hard to distinguish from the word as, especially if you have a hatred of the grocer’s apostrophe ground in your head.