October 30, 2014 16:39 UTC

Words and Their Stories

Rx: Why It Means "Take Your Medicine"

A pharmacist works in the Ramallah Hospital.
A pharmacist works in the Ramallah Hospital.

Multimedia

Play or download an MP3 of this story

Now, the VOA Special English program Words and Their Stories.

Every week at this time, the Voice of America tells about popular words and expressions used in the United States. Some of these words and expressions are old. Some are new. Together, they form the living speech of the American people.
Our story today is very old. It goes back about 5,000 years. It is about a sign that is used to represent some words.

We see this sign on drug stores and whenever we visit a doctor to get an order for medicine. It also appears on bottles of pills and other medicines.

x
The sign is formed by a line across the right foot of the letter “R.” It represents the word “prescription.” It has come to mean “take this medicine.”

x
The sign has its beginnings 5,000 years ago in Egypt. At that time, people prayed to Horus, the god of the Sun. It was said that when Horus was a child, he was attacked by Seth, the demon of evil.

The evil Seth put out the eye of the young Horus. The mother of Horus called for help. Her cry was answered by Thoth, the god of learning and magic. Thoth, with his wisdom and special powers, healed the eye of Horus. And the child was able to see again.

The ancient Egyptians used a drawing of the eye of Horus as a magic sign to protect themselves from disease, suffering and evil. They cut this sign in the stones they used for buildings. And it was painted on the papyrus rolls used for writing about medicine and doctors.

For thousands of years, the eye of Horus remained as a sign of the god’s help to the suffering and sick.

Long after the fall of the ancient Egyptian civilization, doctors and alchemists in Europe continued the custom of showing a sign of the gods’ help and protection. But over the years, the sign changed from the eye of Horus to the sign for Jupiter, the chief god of the Romans. Jupiter’s sign looked much like the printed number “four.”
That sign changed, also. Today, it is the easily-recognized capital “R” with a line across its foot.

The sign no longer offers heavenly assistance to the sick. It now means “take this medicine.”

x
This VOA Special English program Words and Their Stories was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrator was Maurice Joyce. I’m Warren Sheer.







This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Andy Le from: Vietnam
06/28/2013 5:44 AM
Its great ! i'm first time to learn american english via your aricle. Thank you for good voice.


by: Francisco from: Chile
06/27/2013 12:12 AM
I hadn´t heard about this before, very interesting article.


by: Wilibald from: Czech republic
06/26/2013 10:12 PM
What does the "R" look like? I don't know.


by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
06/26/2013 4:27 AM
Thank you for an intersting story about meanings of Rx often seen on drug stores' notices. Actually figure 4 may happen to look like letter R. But I would like to confirm at first if Jupetter's sign is similar to figure 4.

By the way, I have been understanding that Rx came from Recipe and x on the right foot of R means abbreviation. Is it likely "Recipe" came from "4ecipe" ???


by: Wonchul Lee from: South Korea
06/26/2013 3:02 AM
With various articles I am very often Learning English of voa. Nevertheless I am still f-a-r away from the land of communicating in English. Appreciate your program

In Response

by: thuthuy from: vietnam
06/27/2013 2:37 PM
learing English to improve your self and learn knowldge on the world


by: Ronaldo from: Brasilia, Brazil
06/23/2013 8:25 PM
Excelent report !! I learner about the letter R in prescrition


by: Olufemi Bamiduro from: Ibadan, Nigeria
06/23/2013 1:24 PM
This is interesting. I had wondered for years what on earth the Rx symbol could ever mean, but now I know.
It will interest you that I started listening to VOA since my High School teacher recommended VOA and BBC. President Carter was to visit Nigeria and we had a history class Mansa Kankan Musa of Mali, the teacher likened Musa's visit to Mecca to the upcoming one by Pres. Carter, the teacher asked if we knew but we simply smiled to ourselves. VOA made be what I am today. Thanks.

In Response

by: Zeus Jeong from: Korea & Peru
06/26/2013 2:53 PM
Wow~ it's wonderful story about you.
Thanks for hearing from you.

Learn with The News

  • Orbital Sciences Antares Launch

    Video Questions for NASA after Rocket Explosion

    An unmanned privately-owned rocket bringing supplies to the International Space Station exploded seconds after launch Tuesday night. The accident did not cause any injuries on the ground. However, it has raised questions about efforts by the US space agency NASA to use private companies. More

  • FILE - Zambia's new interim president is Guy Scott.

    Audio Guy Scott Named Interim Leader in Zambia

    Guy Scott is Africa’s first white president since F.W. de Klerk governed South Africa from 1989 to 1994. Chinese former army General has admitted to taking huge bribes. U.S airlines do not know where a passenger began his or her travels for Ebola screening. Free Syrian Army helped Kurds in Kobani. More

  • Vietnam China Sea Disputes

    Audio Vietnam, China Look for Solution to Sea Dispute

    China and Vietnam have agreed to find a solution to a territorial conflict in the South China Sea. The two countries have sought to improve relations since the territorial dispute worsened last May. That was when China deployed oil drilling equipment to waters claimed by each side. More

  • Roberto Hernandez

    Video US Political Parties Hope to Gain Latinos' Vote

    United States citizens of Latin American ancestry could influence the U.S. elections on November 4th. Americans will vote for members of the House of Representatives, a third of the Senate, and state and local positions around the country. In California, Latinos are an important vote for Democrats. More

  • Kidnapped by Islamic State

    Video Youth Kidnapped by Islamic State Tells His Story

    Last June, Islamic State militants kidnapped more than 150 students from the city of Kobani in northern Syria. Many of those kidnapped were ethnic Kurds. The militants released most of the students several months later. But about 20 students remain in captivity. One of those freed is Azad. More

Featured Stories

  • Star House

    Video Home of Last Comanche Chief Close to Ruins

    One of the most interesting people in U.S. history is Quanah Parker, the last chief of the country’s Comanche Indian tribe. Quanah Parker was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Quanah Parker was a fierce fighter. But that ended one day in 1875. More

  • FILE - A veterinarian at the nonprofit Bali Animal Welfare Association gives a rabies shot to a puppy in Kebon Kaja village, Bangli Regency in Bali, Indonesia.

    Audio Mass Vaccination of Dogs Can Eliminate Rabies

    About 70,000 people worldwide die every year of rabies. Rabies is a viral infection that people get mainly through dog bites. Scientists say vaccinating dogs can effectively get rid of rabies outbreaks in dog populations. And this will have a domino effect, fewer humans with rabies. More

  • Methane oxidizing

    Photogallery Small Organisms in Deep Sea Rocks Eat Methane

    The gas methane has been linked to rising temperatures on Earth. But methane does not stay in the atmosphere as long as another “greenhouse gas” -- carbon dioxide. Scientists say both gases trap heat from the sun. They prevent heat from escaping into outer space. More

  • New York Mayor Bill de Blasio meets children at the Brooklyn Chinese American Association Early Childhood Education Center. (AP Photo/Newsday, Linda Rosier, Pool)

    Audio Chinese Americans: Discrimination Still a Problem, but Improving

    Despite their American citizenship, some immigrants to the United States report they still are treated like foreigners. However, members of the Chinese American community say attitudes are starting to change. Helen Zia said, “Whenever US-China relations get chilly, Chinese Americans get pneumonia." More

  • Audio Oscar de la Renta Dressed First Ladies and Movie Stars

    Clothing designer Oscar de la Renta died Monday at his home in the American state of Connecticut. He was 82 years old. His wife said he died of problems related to cancer. Mr. de la Renta dressed American movie stars and first ladies such as Jacqueline Kennedy, Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner BlogConfessions of an English Learner Blog

Tell us About Our Programs