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Origins of Rx

A history on the origins of the Rx symbol for pharmacies.

Rx is an abbreviation for the Latin word “recipere” or “recipe”, which means ‘Take, thou.’ In the days before manufactured drugs, apothecaries (who were also doctors) would write out a formula for medications. They would mix up and compound ingredients to make drugs or remedies. Not until well into the 19th century was the distinction between apothecary/pharmacist as a compounder of medicines and the physician as a therapist generally accepted. According to the Pharmaceutical Handbook (19th Edition, 1980), the Latin abbreviation Rx is completed with statements such as “fiat mistura,” which means “let a mixture be made” and/or “secundem artem” which means “ with pharmaceutical art/mastery”. Pharmacists required a knowledge of compounding until recently. 
In 1920, 80% of prescriptions were compounds mixed in the pharmacy. In the 1940’s the number of prescriptions requiring compounding had declined to 26% and then 1% or less by 1971.

Other abbreviations with “x”s are used by the medical professionals too; Sx= signs & symptoms, Tx= treatment or transplant, Hx = history, and Dx = diagnosis.

Many other theories exist as to the origins of the Rx. One of my favourites, from the book Devils, Drugs and Doctors, written 1931, plays on the fact that the Rx isn’t a normal ‘R’ and an ‘x’ but more a symbol in which the italic R leg hangs down below the line with an X line through it...

“Is an invocation to Jupiter, a prayer for his aid to make treatment effective...sometimes in old medical manuscripts all the R’s occurring in the text were crossed”

In other words, the Rx symbol was a corruption of the ancient symbol for the Roman god Jupiter. Astrology fans will recall that this symbol has a very similar crossed leg at the bottom right.

Whatever the history, just for a laugh, ask your local pharmacist if he/she knows about the origins of Rx.

Thank you for your custom

Habib Khan
Company Director.

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