Why do the Continentals cross their sevens?

You’ll have noticed that the Spanish cross their 7’s whilst the Anglos don’t. Why is that? I was looking this up.
One (Spanish) explanation says it comes down from Biblical times, and the theory is quite cunning:

When Moses came down from the mountain with the 10 Commandants, he read them aloud to the assembled masses.

One, you shall love God above all.
And the masses cheered.
Two, you shall not take God’s name in vain.
And the masses roared with approval.
etc, etc.
But when he read aloud
Seven, you shall not covet your neighbours wife,
the multitude shouted as one “shut up! Cross out number seven”!
And so it was done – the seven was crossed. 🙂


The seven is crossed to clearly distinguish it from the one. There is also some cock and bull story about how if you cross your sevens, then every number from 0 to 9 have exactly that number of angles in them, as you can see here:

Cunning. Not true, but a cunning ploy
Cunning. Not true, but a cunning ploy

Supposed to have come down from the original Arabic numerals.

The Brits, of course, refused to cross their sevens simply to annoy the French, and it became a point of honour, embedded into legend.

In fact, Hornblower spotted a French raider hidden in the mist on the Thames which had slunk up to raid the rich London merchant fleet, because of the crossed number 7 on a dropped oar. “Hey ho, a damned Frenchie” he muttered, in an allegory only outclassed by the James Bond moment, when he spotted a Russian spy because the cad was drinking red wine with fish.

When did the Continentals start crossing their sevens? I suspect the practise probably came with the French during the Napoleonic wars, Nappy formalised the legal codes and handwriting styles for Spain, Portugal and Italy at the time. If you look at earlier Spanish works – say the tablas alfonsies from the 12th century, written with Arabian numerals – you’ll see the 7 was very similar to the original Arabian Y and this seems to be the same for the next few centuries, until the French influence overtook the older style.

Anybody know the truth out there?

5 Replies to “Why do the Continentals cross their sevens?”

  1. The continental number one looks very similar to a number 7, so, I was always told it was to distinguish the two.
    Interestingly, I always cross my sevens, and when someone forged my signature and date on a cheque, my local bank was suspicious about the7 and contacted me!

  2. Growing up, a good friend of mine is from Venezuela who wrote 7 with the dash. So, I followed suit because I thought it looked cool and have written that for over 20 years now.

  3. The continental 1 has a distinctive up-stroke before the down-stroke (which isn’t always very vertical). The 1 and the 7 are therefore very similar so to distinguish them, they crossed the 7.

    I lived in France as an adolescent, learned the 1 and the 7, and also the 9 which has a more distinctive curl to its tail. I also started writing a comma for the decimal point and a period for the thousands. I never gave these up.

  4. I’m British but for some reason I always cross my severns. I thought it might be a hereditary thing as my paternal grandmother was German but it seems to be more of a French/Italian Mediterranean trait. I just can’t remember when & why I started crossing my severns

  5. Ofcourse the 7 needs to be crossed. Those who do not are just pretentious pricks! Good man Josh for doing the cross

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