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There’s no x in Rx
There’s no x in Rx The story begins in Egypt 3,000 B.C. with a character named Horus described in the 'Egyptian Book of the Dead'.

The pharmacist’s predecessors were the alchemists and the pharmacists’ logo resembles a latter form of the alchemists’ logo. Both symbols look like an R with its leg crosshatched. Why do they look like that? Further, some people describe the pharmacists’ logo as an R with an overlapping x. Why?

The story begins in Egypt 3,000 B.C. with a character named Horus described in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Horus was a man who is depicted with the head of a falcon who lost his left eye in a fight avenging his father’s murder. Horus brought his shattered eye to the healer Thoth, the founder of alchemy, who applied his skills and reassembled the eye. Horus then delivered his eye to the resting place of his father, which brought his father back to life. This magical eye came to represent power and welfare.

The fractions within the Eye of Horus were used by alchemists to assign proportions of ingredients.
The Eye was used as a fractional system in Egyptian mathematics. The fractions within the Eye of Horus were used by alchemists to assign proportions of ingredients in preparing medications; hence, the Eye of Horus became associated with the alchemists.

As cited in Guthrie, A History of Medicine, the elaborate Eye symbol was simplified and painted on the bows of ships for good luck. The ships carried this symbol to distant lands, including Greece. The Greeks painted a further simplified symbol resembling an R with its leg crosshatched.

The pharmacists’ logo is instead derived from the Latin recipe, meaning, “take.”

Before the 18th century, manuscripts were written in Latin. Gradually, the use of Latin waned; however, it persisted in certain professions including medicine and pharmacology.

The 1900s marked the birth of the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry. Before that, when a pharmacist received a request from a physician to prepare a medication, he had to first extract the proposed ingredients from raw materials himself. Pharmacists had to devise methods for their processes of creating and mixing elixirs. This history explains why the storefronts on some pharmacies depict chemistry tools such as mortars and beakers: tools the pharmacist used to create and mix the prescribed ingredients. The physician would write instructions such as “Take one teaspoon of ginger extract and mix in…” The pharmacist would start his notes with “Take five ounces of ginger root and extract oil using …” To save time, when pharmacists and doctors wrote the word “Recipe” for “Take”, they would write only an R and cross the leg of the R to denote that the word Recipe had been abbreviated.
This symbol resembles that of the latter form of the Eye of Horus. It is interesting that the symbol of the pharmacists should have come to look so similar to that of their very predecessors, the alchemists.

With the advent of the printing press in 1843, stationary used by pharmacists and doctors had a preprinted and so the symbol lived on.

Since the latter part of the 1900s, the instructions on a physician’s prescription have been for the patient instead of for the pharmacist. These instructions appear on the medication’s label. In place of the word “take,” the labels had the symbol inserted; one pill once per day.

In more recent years, the instructions are written entirely in text, for example; “Take one pill once per day.” That is an abbreviation for “Take” has been forgotten. Consequently, sometimes appears on a modern label, which begins with “Take.” This redundant practice changed the “Rx” from a symbol used to denote a word to a logo, which represents an industry.

Some describe the logo as an R with an overlapping x. With the advent of the typewriter in 1873, the became simply Rx. Before word processors, there was no way to type many symbols. This corruption has led to the false notion by some that is an R with an overlapping x.

Further reinforcing this erroneous notion is the way in which physicians came to abbreviate in English. Physicians abbreviate frequently written medical terms. A common format for physicians is to use only the first letter of the word followed by the algebraic infinitive “x.” For example, “treatment” is abbreviated Tx, “history” is Hx, and “fracture” is Fx. Unfortunately the abbreviation for both “physical” and “prescription” would both be Px. There was a duplication dilemma. The typed corruption of the crosshatched R of the Latin recipere as “Rx” had already been in use and so was selected as an abbreviation for prescription. Remember, the written symbol came first. There was no x in and so there is no x in the Rx it was derived from.

Now that you know the pharmacists’ logo isn’t an R with an x overlapping it, see if your pharmacist knows!

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"There’s no x in Rx"
   authored by:
Dr. Musico was born in Beverly Hills, CA. His undergraduate work at USC included shark research in the Pacific and cancer research in Los Angeles. His clerkship included surgery in London, medicine in New York, and tropical medicine in the Windward I...

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