Why Is Prescription Abbreviated With An Rx?

The prescription drug industry is huge; according to Statista, the worldwide pharmaceutical industry, which includes the research and development of medications as well as their advertising and distribution, was worth $1.27 trillion in 2020. Despite the hundreds of billions of dollars changing hands in the industry, it is also a mundane part of everyday life. Chances are, if you opened your bathroom cabinet, you'd find a couple of bottles of prescription medications, either that you're currently taking or that you no longer need and haven't thrown away yet.

You may have noticed that pill bottles, prescription pads, and in some cases, the pharmacies themselves, have a symbol that is immediately recognizable. The "Rx" symbol (which is actually a combination of the letters R and X fused together, as seen in the image above) has been associated with medicine for millennia. It's actually shorthand, of a sort, of a Latin word — at least, according to a leading theory.

From the Latin for 'to take'

As is often the case with ancient symbology, the true origins of the Rx symbol are lost to history. Mental Floss provides the theory that seems to make the most sense: that it was shorthand for the Latin word "recipere," "to take." In Europe at the time, Latin was the language used for almost all written communication, so a doctor's instructions would be written in Latin. In the case of medicine, the doctor would give the patient instructions to take specific ingredients and combine them into a medicine. From there, according to this theory, the Rx symbol evolved to appear on medicine bottles and, in some cases, even on pharmacies themselves.

However, History provides another theory: that the symbol evolved from the Eye of Horus, which the ancient Egyptians believed was a sigil that provided healing powers. Similarly, as the Belleville News-Democrat explains that the 1931 book "Devils, Drugs, and Doctors" posits that the Rx symbol evolved from the symbol for the god Jupiter, and that writing the symbol down was an invocation to Jupiter for healing.