MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why Does “Rx” Mean Prescription?

I recently visited my doctor & ended up with a prescription. After looking at the bottle, I wondered what that “Rx” means. Why does Rx mean “prescription”, when there’s neither an R or an X in the word prescription?

The pharmacy practice, or the preparation & dispensation of drugs, has been around for thousands of years. The world’s first recorded prescriptions were etched on a Mesopotamian clay tablet around 2100 B.C., while the first drugstores came about in the ancient city of Baghdad in the 8th century A.D. America’s earliest drugstores sprung up in the 17th century, in major cities like Boston & New York. But none of these established Rx as the symbol for prescription. So, where did it come from?

The Rx symbol is actually derived from the Latin word “recipere,” which means “to take” (which makes sense, given that you take or ingest medication). Now, there are some alternative theories, like the belief that Rx evolved from the Eye of Horus, an ancient Egyptian symbol associated with healing powers, or even the Jupiter symbol, which looks like an embellished version of the number 4. But, while the Rx can be stylistically written so that it looks similar to the Eye of Horus or Jupiter symbol, they’re clearly more artsy retrofitting than factual.

Prior to the 1950s, the majority of prescription medications in America were compounded by pharmacists, meaning that each medication was custom-made from raw ingredients, using a mortar & pestle, to suit each individual patient’s needs. But, in the mid-20th century, pharmacists began filling most prescriptions with mass-produced products produced by wholesale drug manufacturers. Still, nowadays the mortar & pestle remain a pharmacy industry symbol, most of the time showing up on drugstore signs right alongside the letters Rx (which, you know now what that means).

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