back to article 'Hashtag' added to the OED – but # isn't a hash, pound, nor number sign

The venerable Oxford English Dictionary has added a word beloved by the Twitterati to its collection of 171,476 current and 47,156 obsolete words: hashtag. "The OED famously tends to wait until a word has been attested for several years before entering it into the dictionary, although exceptions are made for words which are …


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  1. Anonymous Coward


    "Hatch" as in crosshatch, perhaps?

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: oc-toth-orp'e

      It's ancient egyptian for "God Toth will eat your babies if you use it more than once per day"

    2. Big-nosed Pengie

      Re: octothorpe

      Precisely, It's a crosshatch. Trust the Yanks to fsck it up.

  2. Peter Simpson 1

    Bell Labs

    Best history I can find...

    Also of interest: the # symbol, above the "3" on my keyboard, is replaced by the "script-L pound" symbol on UK keyboards...

    1. Rik Myslewski

      Re: Bell Labs

      @ Peter Simpson 1: Excellent reference – thanks.

    2. mike2R

      Re: Bell Labs

      "Also of interest: the # symbol, above the "3" on my keyboard, is replaced by the "script-L pound" symbol on UK keyboards..."

      UK Mac keyboard? Alt-3 will give you a hash.

      1. Irony Deficient Silver badge

        Re: Bell Labs

        mike2R, and analogously, Option-3 generates a £ character with a US English input source in OS X.

      2. Vic

        Re: Bell Labs

        > UK Mac keyboard? Alt-3 will give you a hash.

        In a bash shell, it repeats the next keystroke 3 times.


    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bell Labs

      It is interesting that the second article explains that the "0" on a rotary dial telephone followed "9" and produced 10 pulses. IIRC Scandinavian dials had "0" before "1". So they each produced one more pulse than their nominal value - with "9" giving 10 pulses.

    4. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Bell Labs

      Best history I can find...

      Two passive-aggressive jerkasses from tech doing their jerkass thing and coining a purposefully hard-to-pronounce word for a character they don't like to see?

      Sounds all too believable.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pound sign

    One of the most confusing things about living in Canada was the naming of '#' as the pound sign, heard particularly on automated phone systems.

    Rather confusingly, it swaps position with the sterling £ over the 3 key on a standard US keyboard.

    However, it apparently has nothing to do with pound sterling but an older symbol used for the pound weight measure.

    1. Old Handle

      Re: Pound sign

      It's also somewhat strange because in the US (and I assume Canada) the symbol is practically never called pound except on a telephone keypad. I'm trying to recall I've I ever actually seen it used to refer to the unit of weight. Maybe like once?

      1. Irony Deficient Silver badge

        Re: Pound sign

        Old Handle, may I ask your age? Perhaps it’s something that we quinquagenerians (and older) absorbed from our parents, but haven’t passed along to our more digital, less analog progeny?

    2. Irony Deficient Silver badge

      Re: Pound sign

      skelband, quite right. That older pound (mass) symbol is ℔ (Unicode U+2114) — when handwritten hurriedly, it resembles a # character, which is why the # character is called a “pound sign” in the States. We still use the # character as if it were the ℔ symbol, e.g. “2 # bag of sugar” on a shopping list. The older symbol is almost completely forgotten now, mainly having been found in 19th century lead type and 20th century Linotype keyboards. Typewriters have used # since at least 1890, and the # was established in the International Telegraph Alphabet № 2 in 1932, Teletypes being the bridge between ITA-2 and ASCII.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Pound sign

        “2 # bag of sugar”

        How quaint! We would write that as "1Kg bag of sugar."

    3. Richard Plinston

      Re: Pound sign

      > an older symbol used for the pound weight measure.

      The symbol used for pound weight seems to have originated from a stylized lb* written in chalk. The octothorpe is only an approximation of this but seems to have been adopted for convenience, probably when typewriters started including it.

      > swaps position with the sterling £

      The best explanation for the use of 'sterling' for money or silver seems to originate as 'easterling' referring to traders from the east, ie the Hansa League in the Baltic, who had the best reputation for quality and reliability as well as the best steel, money and silver.

      * lb is abbreviation for libra pondo

      1. Scroticus Canis

        Re: Pound sign - " 'esterling'... traders from the east

        No mate, sterling was the name of the old Norman penny which the bastard* Duke of Normandy William I introduced to the English after 1066 and all that. Maybe their name for a penny was derived as you indicate.

        The £ sterling used to be 240 pennies (now 100 pence) and the £ sign stands for libra with a cross bar indicating a contraction.

        * in both senses of the word

      2. Alan Ferris

        Re: Pound sign

        Pardon my ignorance, but wasn't the pound (£) originally simply the worth of that a pound (lb) in Sterling silver?

        1. Don Jefe

          Re: Pound sign

          Lots of industrial machinery uses the # to denote weight in pounds. You also see it on a lot of materials handling equipment and freight elevators to denote weight capacity. Temporary structures like portable stadium seating and bandstands use it for weight capacity as well. Pretty much everything related to the wheels of trains uses the # for weight.

          Oddly, the # association with weight in the rail industry is global. I know for an absolute fact that the trucks (bogies for you South American and European sorts) primary suspension coil mounts and bearing carriers on trains in South America, Europe, India, Russia and Japan all use the # for weight in pounds. I have no idea why that's the case, but it is, nevertheless, the way things are.

          Here in the US the general public is most likely to see the # used for weight in traditional butchers shops and at country farmers markets where 6.95 # is $6.95 per pound. Again, I have no idea why the $ is almost never shown and the # is used instead of 'lb' like in modern supermarkets. On reflection, I amend my statements, I suspect it's just because nobody gives a shit. That's a pretty good assumption for anything that's bassackwards or weird here in the US.

          You often see the # for weight used in mixing instructions where a dry component is mixed with a liquid to make something else. Often used with surface coatings like paint, simple molding processes and in DIY cat hair resins for gap filling.

          Anyway, there are plenty of modern examples of # for weight out there if you start looking, especially in English speaking countries. I think there's a message there about modern society and how people just don't look, or care, about how things are done. All kinds of little anachronisms are around us everyday, but they're usually hidden behind the screen of a mobile phone.

      3. jonathanb Silver badge

        Re: Pound sign

        It is called Sterling because it was originally one tower pound (approx 350g) of Sterling Silver pennies. Sterling Silver is an alloy of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. 240 silver pennies made of that alloy weighed one tower pound. most of the other currencies , eg Dollar/Peso, Rupee, Shekel were also originally weights of silver.

        1. Richard Plinston

          Re: Pound sign

          > one tower pound (approx 350g) of Sterling Silver pennies.

          And the 'Sterling' in silver comes from 'easterling' ie the trader men from the east (the Baltic), the Hanseatic League, this was the most reliable source of quality silver (and steel).

      4. Arthur Dent

        Re: Pound sign

        Pinchebek's explanation of the word "sterling" is thoroughly discredited now, after getting on for 700 years of being accepted. The current most accepted theory is that it was originally "steorling" (Old English meaning roughly "a thing of a star") and comes from the AngloNorman coin which had a star on it. The Medieval French, Italian, German, Latin, and so on versions (esterlin, sterlino, sterlinc, esterlingus, sterlinus, sterlingus, ....) all date from later, and were derived from the Anglo-saxon term. These continental places needed a name for this AngloNorman coin because it was often used throughout Western Europe in preference to local coinage, being the highest quality silver coin in Europe, in its early days reliably close to 100% silver, and later after Henry fixed the quality at 92.5% silver - the quality of silver which is now known as "sterling silver" - reliably 92.5%.

        The version of Pinchebek's theory (which he published about 700 years ago) which became most popular in modern times had Byzantium rather than the Hanseatic league as the source of the name, I believe; but that doesn't matter as neither the league nor the empire had anything to do with the origins of the word sterling.

        1. Richard Plinston

          Re: Pound sign

          > The current most accepted theory is that it was originally "steorling" (Old English meaning roughly "a thing of a star") and comes from the AngloNorman coin which had a star on it.

          """The British numismatist Philip Grierson points out that the stars appeared on Norman pennies only for the single three-year issue from 1077-1080 (the Normans changed coin designs every three years), and that the star-theory thus fails on linguistic grounds:"""

          While you, and others, may claim 'most accepted', it is most likely a convergence of both explanations.

          The 92.5% silver purity is exactly that of the Easterlings (or Osterlings) coins used by the Hanse (or Hanseatic League). As this was much more widely used, and for far longer, many centuries, it is likely that this brought the term into much more widespread use than the earlier more limited one.

    4. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      Re: Pound sign

      In Unicode it's referred to as the Number Sign.

      Just thought that worth mentioning.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Just to muddy the waters a trifle further (was: Re: Pound sign)

        Ken Thompson & I got to Berkeley about the same time, he as a lecturer, me as a student. He introduced us to UNIX and introduced the term "octothorp" in that context.

        Somewhat later, as BSD became the goto[1] OS at Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA and Utah, the "hash-bang" character "#!" interpreter directive was introduced into the BSD kernel ... probably around mid-late 1979. The first person I remember calling "#!" a hash-bang was ken. It soon became "shbang" (for what should be obvious reasons), then "shebang" for reasons I'm unsure of.

        UNIX-proper added the capability in early 1980. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first non-networking bit of major kernel code that BSD added to un*x, and not vice-versa.

        Side-note: "bang" is an old printer's term for the exclamation [point|mark].

        [1] I know, I know. Stop it already.

      2. david 12 Silver badge

        Re: Pound sign

        Also called the Number Sign in ASCII, where it was put by the Americans, which is part of the reason why it is the alternate value for the English Pound position.

        "‘‘The symbol # means the same as No., and it can be very useful"

        ("The I.S.O. character code,’’ The Computer Journal, vol. 7, no. 3, October, 1964)

        In AUS, the subtitles on my TV show # (number) or £ (pound) to indicate music, depending on where the program was subtitled, indicating an odd translation difficulty somewhere.

  4. Primus Secundus Tertius

    Sharp comment

    I have always thought of it as 'the sharp sign', as used in music notation.

    Cue hash, bang, wallop from those who disagree.

    1. Mike Goodwin

      Re: Sharp comment

      hash = #

      bang = !

      wallop? Any ideas?

      1. Irony Deficient Silver badge

        Re: wallop? Any ideas?

        Mike, it’s not found in the ASCII entry of the Jargon file, but I like wallop = ⚛ (Unicode U+269B).

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Sharp comment

      This is a hash - # (horizontal lines flat, vertical lines tilted to the right)

      This is a sharp - ♯ (0x266F; horizontal lines tilted upwards, vertical lines straight)

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Sharp comment

        "This is a hash - # (horizontal lines flat, vertical lines tilted to the right)

        This is a sharp - ♯ (0x266F; horizontal lines tilted upwards, vertical lines straight)"

        Maybe so, but it's close enough for government work :-)

      2. no-one in particular

        Re: Sharp comment

        > This is a hash - # (horizontal lines flat, vertical lines tilted to the right)

        > This is a sharp - ♯ (0x266F; horizontal lines tilted upwards, vertical lines straight)

        Which is why I am training anyone I can to pronounce a certain programming language as C-hash ...

  5. Richard Tobin

    Not its real name

    What the OED actually says is "In technical contexts also called octothorp". That doesn't make it its real name.

    Its real name, as all Intercal programmers know, is "mesh".

    As for its being the same as the musical sharp sign, the OED calls this "erroneous".

  6. Oh Homer

    Oxford's destruction of English continues unabashed

    They should just rename it the Americanese Dickshunairy and be done with it.

    1. Irony Deficient Silver badge

      Re: Oxford’s destruction of English continues unabashed

      Oh Homer, by its own admission, the OED is descriptive, not prescriptive. It reflects English as she am talked; it’s not some sort of official publication of the Académie anglaise.

      1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

        Re: Oxford’s destruction of English continues unabashed

        Quite so. English is a living and evolving language, and as long as it remains free of that awful urge to artificial limitation, it shall remain a living language. Oh Homer is probably the sort that would be complaining about Thug, Curry and Doolally entering the language in the late 19th century.

      2. Oh Homer

        Re: "OED is descriptive"

        Yes, but who exactly gets to decide what qualifies as "English", just because it's a new word that appears on the Internet? If it's new, then how exactly is anyone supposed to determine which language it belongs to? Why not designate it as French or Klingon or Gibberish instead?

        1. Irony Deficient Silver badge

          Re: “OED is descriptive”

          Oh Homer, native speakers of English decide what qualifies as English. If enough of them like the poem Jabberwocky, then English will incorporate new words such as galumphing and chortled from Gibberish. If enough native French speakers use le week-end, then French has incorporated a new word, despite the best efforts of the Académie franç promote and preserve la fin de semaine. (The same would apply to a new Klingon word vis-à-vis Paramount Pictures.)

          1. Oh Homer

            Re: “OED is descriptive”

            @Irony Deficient: Well, by that reasoning, the word "sacrebleu" is English because it has been spoken by Englishmen. For that matter, one might argue that every word in existence is English for the same reason.

            I don't see the ordinary man on the street proclaiming these words to be English, I see a single publisher arbitrarily declaring them as such.

            It's not that I'm being a cockwomble (see what I did there?), after all I fully appreciate that language needs to be dynamic in order to describe the new facets of an evolving culture, but the problem is that many of these new words are not being created out of the necessity to describe something new, they're being created unnecessarily by illiterate people (mostly Americans, it seems), who are blissfully ignorant of the perfectly adequate words that already exist to describe things that are fundamentally not really new at all.

            It's like a sort of idioglossia pandemic borne of ignorance, and the OED is merely legitimising that ignorance.

            1. Irony Deficient Silver badge

              Re: “OED is descriptive”

              Oh Homer, no — by that reasoning, “sacrebleu” is English only if enough native English speakers consider it to be English. “Blitz” has become an English word since 1940, despite the perfectly adequate preëxisting English word “lightning”; “sacrebleu” hasn’t.

              If you disagree with the decisions of that single publisher, then don’t buy books from that publisher — it ain’t rocket science.

              On this side of the pond, the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (AHD) was created in response to the perceived permissiveness of Webster's Third New International Dictionary. If you feel that the OED has crossed some sort of line, there's nothing stopping you from creating a Rightpondian analog to the AHD.

              1. Vic

                Re: “OED is descriptive”

                “Blitz” has become an English word since 1940, despite the perfectly adequate preëxisting English word “lightning”

                But "Blitz" when used in English is not a synonym for "lightning"...


                1. Squander Two

                  Re: “OED is descriptive”

                  > But "Blitz" when used in English is not a synonym for "lightning"

                  "Blitz" when used in German in that context is not a synonym for "lightning" either. The German reference to lightning was metaphorical, and we can use metaphors in English too.

                  1. Vic

                    Re: “OED is descriptive”

                    "Blitz" when used in German in that context is not a synonym for "lightning" either.

                    The only context in which "Blitz" is used in English is to describe the wartime bombings. That's why saying that English has the word "lightning" is such a non-sequitur - "Blitz" is never used in English to mean anything to do with lightning.


                    1. Irony Deficient Silver badge

                      Re: “OED is descriptive”

                      Vic, welcome back — I hope that you won’t be deleting any more of your comments.

                      No, “blitz” is used in other contexts in English — see definitions b. and c. of the OED’s entry for the noun. Oh Homer’s point was that there was no need to coin new words in English when perfectly adequate English words already exist. My counterpoint was that it is done nevertheless, and gave “blitz” as an example. Squander Two has already pointed out the reasons why one might coin a new word over using an existing word, and that “blitz” is only used metaphorically in English, and that nothing would have prevented the same metaphorical usage with the English word “lightning” — “lightning war” is a perfectly adequate substitution for „Blitzkrieg“, isn’t it? Your point is itself a non sequitur to Oh Homer’s original point; that a new word has a more circumscribed definition than the perfectly adequate original does not address whether or not the new word should be coined at all.

              2. Pedigree-Pete


                ID, Rightpondian is a question of perspective. I'm sure our Canadian cousins looking to the good ole USA would consider Gods own country (GB) Left of the pond & so Leftpondian.

                May I propose the alternative Eastponian/Westpondian between those whose countries have coasts on said pond.

                Before the OED start using El Reg post terminology as "standard" English.


                1. Irony Deficient Silver badge

                  Re: Rightpondian?

                  Pete, of course you may propose that — one could even say the same about us if our gaze were drawn towards the wonders of Mexico. However, my guess is that Canadians tend to print their global maps with north as top, south as bottom, west as left, and east as right, as most people around the world do, so the perspective of Leftpondian as western Atlantic and Rightpondian as eastern Atlantic wouldn’t be unfamiliar to them.

            2. Squander Two

              Re: “OED is descriptive”

              > Well, by that reasoning, the word "sacrebleu" is English because it has been spoken by Englishmen. For that matter, one might argue that every word in existence is English for the same reason.

              For the same reason? The same reason? "Reason" is a perfidious French word. What the hell are you playing at, trying to slip it into a decent law-abiding English sentence?

              Anyway, yes, one might so argue, but the OED don't. "Connoisseur", "cor anglais", "pork", "beef", "mutton", "guardian", "warden", "tete-a-tete", "pied-a-terre", "cafe", "boudoir", "cordon", and, oo, "reason" are used commonly enough in English to be regarded by the OED as English; meanwhile, "brouillard", "trome", "ordinateur", and "pousse-cul" are not. So, you know, the words used by English-speakers are regarded as English and the words not used by English-speakers are regarded as non-English. You call this arbitrary. Hmm.

              > I don't see the ordinary man on the street proclaiming these words to be English

              I don't see the ordinary man in the street understanding a bloody word of Chaucer. I also don't see the ordinary man in the street publishing a major study of the English language. However, the OED are perfectly happy to accept contributions from the ordinary man in the street. So what's your point?

              > I see a single publisher arbitrarily declaring them as such.

              It's not arbitrary; they have quite strict rules for inclusion. The rules are published, so you could look them up.

              > It's not that I'm being a cockwomble (see what I did there?)

              Yes, brilliantly enough, you completely undermined your own argument:

              > the problem is that many of these new words are not being created out of the necessity to describe something new

              So cockwombles are something new? We didn't already have the words "eejit", "pillock", "plonker", "twonk", "fuckwit", "spoon", "tosspot", "wally", "wanker", "arse", "fanny", "twit", or "lummox"?

              > they're being created unnecessarily by illiterate people (mostly Americans, it seems), who are blissfully ignorant of the perfectly adequate words that already exist to describe things that are fundamentally not really new at all.

              Ah, the people who think a language is some sort of logical communication calculus. Oh no! A new word for an old thing! Help! Help!

              Language is not a logical system, and was not designed to be, or at all. It's a quite brilliant system for communicating facts, opinions, emotions, feelings, ambiences, and pretty much anything. We make up words for all sorts of reasons, including because we just like the sound of them and are having fun. For instance, English speakers like rhymes, hence "higgledy-piggledy", "hotch-potch", and "rumpy-pumpy". We often coin new words where old ones already exist in order to describe the same thing in a different way, efficiently conveying nuances of the speaker's opinions and emotions: "kaput" versus "fucked" versus "broken", for instance. Interestingly enough, the linguists who actually study these things have discovered that we almost always coin words and phrases precisely because they are useful: when some indignant purist gets all indignant about a new "unnecessary" word, what you really mean, whether you realise it or not, is not that there is no need for the word but simply that you can't see its need. In which case, the fault is yours, not the speaker's.

              Look, the English create new words constantly, yet English people like you regard that as perfectly OK whilst having conniptions if some fucking Yank has the temerity to do the same. Secondly, words cross from Britain to America all the time, yet English people like you have conniptions if anything travels in the other direction. Thirdly, English people like you, who like to claim that you're concerned with "proper" English, in fact, as anyone living outside the South-East is all too aware, also have conniptions over half the English as it is spoken in these sceptered isles, denouncing anything slightly unfamiliar-sounding as an "Americanism" when it's usually just dialect from a bit of Britain north of Watford or west of Reading. Parochial detestation of the unknown is not a principled stance.

              > It's like a sort of idioglossia pandemic borne of ignorance


              1. Oh Homer

                Re: “OED is descriptive”

                @Squander Two: It seems there's more than one person here who's irony deficient (re: cockwomble).

                I don't expect language to be clinical and soulless, but equally I don't especially enjoy the legitimisation and promotion of ignorance, which seems to be the OED's primary role these days.

      3. Scroticus Canis

        Re: Oxford’s destruction of English continues unabashed @Irony Deficient

        I used to think that the Oxford in OED was the English university town not one of the numerous Oxfords scattered across the USA.

        English is the language of the English people and it pisses me off when a 'Merkin dictionary calls the proper use or spelling of a word British English (English English would be less insulting) when they should, if they were honest, specify that their usage is American English, i.e. a post colonial variant.

        Rather than steal our language and bastardise it with incorrect spelling and pronunciation the USA should rename their first language* Amerglish or some such.

        *(by use, well currently amigo)

        1. Irony Deficient Silver badge

          Re: Oxford’s destruction of English continues unabashed

          Scroticus Canis, if it pisses you off so much, then you should present your case to the dictionary’s publisher; I have absolutely no influence over what they do or don’t do.

          If you don’t want us to speak our direct descendant of 17th century English, then invent a time machine and use it to prevent 17th century Englishmen from colonizing North America. Alternatively, go back to the 11th century and prevent the Normans from stealing your language and bastardizing it with incorrect spellings and pronunciations. God þē gehealde.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

            1. Don Jefe

              Re: Oxford’s destruction of English continues unabashed

              I think you'll find that the English who adopted what they now call English as their language didn't invent the language, they just laid claim to it. The Scandinavians and Gauls added to the Latin carried from Rome and the Celts just threw a bunch of confusing stuff in there for, I suspect, the laughs.

              What would be later known as the English people, made two enormous contributions to the abomination that is the English language. The first is the practice of abbreviating proper nouns such as people's names. Of all the possible things to abbreviate, the English chose to abbreviate the one thing that's incredibly improper to abbreviate. The French did it with people's titles when writing, which is borderline insulting, but people have proper names for a reason. The English knew it was wrong too, that's why you don't see many references to King Chuck and Queen Liz. So they knew the difference between proper and improper, but chose to bastardize from the top down. Which is a very English approach, I'll give you that.

              Their second big contribution was to keep the foreign spelling of a word from another land, but pronounce it however they saw fit. I've read the scholarly papers explaining why this happened, but I think they're ignoring the obvious: For such a tiny place the diversity of accents is stunning. My accent is outrageous and it has taken decades for me to be (mostly) easily understood by other English speakers. But I understand why I speak that way, I'm from a geographically isolated place. The English live on a little island that's as flat as a picnic table, how in Gods name did so many people there manage to speak the same language, but have 713 different ways to say it?

              None of that is meant to be taken as a swipe at the English people. Nearly all languages still in use are a mishmash of all manner of influences, as others have said, language is a living thing. The English people lost their claim as arbiter of their adopted English language as they withdrew from previously held parts of their Empire. Losing claim to stuff you leave behind is one of the risks of Empire. The English left their language behind and it now belongs to those picked it up and made it their own. The lesson there is twofold, don't name yourself after your language and don't teach it to your subjects in countries you occupy. Teach the subjects some tediously intricate and limited language like Esperanto or Romulan.

            2. Irony Deficient Silver badge

              Re: Oxford’s destruction of English continues unabashed

              Vic, what would you suggest that the Irish whose first language is not Irish name the language which they speak? Should everyone from Baja California through Tierra del Fuego who speaks Spanish name their language something else because their ancestors fought wars of independence against Spain? Note that the country from which the US seceded was the Kingdom of Great Britain. “English” is not its possessive; it’s not even its adjective.

          2. Arthur Dent

            Re: Oxford’s destruction of English continues unabashed

            Interesting. You are presumably aware that the OED is published by the Oxford University Press, and that the Oxford referred to both in the name of the publisher and in the name of the dicstionary is the one which is siuuated in Oxfordshire, England? And that the objective of the dictionary is to be a historical record of the English lexicon since the earliest days of the language and in all the forms used by its native speakers, not just what's currently fashionable in some part of south east England? Surely yuou can't be so ignorant as to be unaware of those things? I guess you are just trolling, and I should have more sense than to take the bait.

        2. Squander Two

          Re: Oxford’s destruction of English continues unabashed @Scroticus Canis

          > I used to think that the Oxford in OED was the English university town

          Er, it is. So what are you on about?

  7. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Younguns these days

    Everyone knows it's a channel ident on IRC. I'm off to #humbug.

  8. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Got me extra points once

    One question, worth 10 points on my Discrete Structures test, was "What is the real name of the # symbol?" and the answer the rather strange and twisted (but fun!) instructor wanted was octothorpe.

    So that replaced 2 questions I totally bombed and I still managed 100%

    This was about 1986, long before twitter... but I did have BITNET access.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Got me extra points once

      The correct answer would have been "MU", of course.

      I thought one only encounters "questions that one MUST answer wrongly [by outputting obsolete stuff, hearsay, frank incomprehension, random lore and affirmations by outsourcees from faraway lands]" only in those collectible certification programs?

  9. Suricou Raven

    I work with children. It's very common to hear them now talk about the 'hashtag key.' I think most of them had never had reason to think of the symbol until twitter repurposed it.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      I always wondered what the '@' sign on my parents' typewriter was good for when banging on it.

      1. david 12 Silver badge

        @ sign

        @ symbol was used for pricing. As: 5 apples @ 5p

        The typewriter, of course, was widely used for commercial correspondence, and, before the photocopier, even for copying out price sheets.

  10. OrsonX



  11. OrsonX

    nutrigenetic, adj.

    Shampoo makers will be ecstatic.

  12. Gannettt

    As Welsh comedian Milton Jones put it when he rang up the automated phone line: "For customer service press 1, for order status press 2, and for a 70s cop duo press star-key and hash"

    1. Gannettt

      And Mitchell and Webb's "Fourth symphony in F hashtag major".

      Never know there was so much humour in it!

    2. petef

      And North Wales customers with extended numeric keypads can Prestatyn.

  13. 2+2=5 Silver badge


    Among the other 1,000 new words added ... Skype

    I hope they got the pronunciation right which is, of course, "sky-pee".

  14. Jonathan 27

    Ah, you see. This story displays a misunderstanding of how language works. Since the term "hashtag" is so popular more people call that symbol "hash" than anything else. This means that in a few years the dictionary will list the official name as "hash". "octothorp" would never catch on, that's why not one ever says that. It's a goofy name and it will eventually be relegated to a footnote on the bottom of an encyclopedia that no one will read.

    1. Don Jefe

      The 'tag' bit on the end there is pretty important. Outside of pop culture fashions, 'hash' has at least two meanings that are as far from Twitter as it's possible to get.

      But words 'catch on' due to a wide variety of factors. For example, I've just issued a company wide policy edict where 'octothorp' shall be used in any instance where 'hashtag' is used in relation to the dissemination of trivial, useless information using Twitter as the medium.

      During the month of July my minions are scheduled to perform a variety of duties in 11 different countries and will be acting under orders to use the word octothorp in its Twitter context as frequently as possible. One of my engineers will be speaking to a group of 14ish year old kids in Dublin and I will be expecting him to program at least 60% of his audience with a violent aversion to the word 'hashtag'.

      Going forward, Hashtag will refer exclusively to the situation adaptability exercise where the lights in the warehouse are extinguished and participants navigate solely by sound and the smoke pumped in through the HVAC produced by the high pressure, conveyor fed, hash oil fumigator in the medics office. We're a very modern company, so the rules of Hashtag are non competitive and everybody gets a gold star for participating. Every high intensity, life critical workplace should have Hashtag exercises on a regular basis.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        After we had closed up for the night, we used to play Hashtag in the 'shoot people with laser guns' emporium in which I worked, many moons ago.

        All lights except the UV's off, put the smoke machine on full, and while the arena was becoming a sensory deprivation tank, partake in some recreationals. Then go and see if you know the area as well as you think you do.

  15. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

    Just to muddy the waters further...

    In the late '80s, an instructor for the new phone system insisted that it was the "gate" key, because of its resemblance to a garden gate. I never agreed; for one thing, without a diagonal, the gate would sag.

    1. Whiskers

      Re: Just to muddy the waters further...

      I remember the same thing; the printed instruction books for the new automated switchboard we were sold also called it the 'gate key'. I think it's sad that it never caught on; after all, a gate indicates that there is somewhere to go whereas a hash just ... is.

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: Just to muddy the waters further...

        On the off chance you haven't figured this out, you weren't reading the instructions for a switchboard. I would have thought the carrion birds that have followed you everywhere since then would have given it away, but perhaps not seeing that is part of it.

        I suppose it's possible you won't even be able to see this warning, a fnord type effect. However, if you can read this message, you need to return to the place where you initially used the gate key and read the 'instruction manual' from back to front. Afterward you'll have a few minutes to destroy the gate (it is rather switchboard like in appearance) and escape before the Portal Wardens show up. They'll likely be disguised as some sort of uniform wearing Human, but don't be fooled.

        Best of luck to you.

        1. Whiskers

          Re: Just to muddy the waters further...

          @ Don Jefe

          On the off chance that you were responding to my comment - we (the workers expected to use it) called it 'the automated switchboard' because that's what it did. I'm sure the people selling it had some fancy name for it with 'system' and 'communications' mentioned somewhere; but that was too much to remember.

          Good *# reference, by the way :))

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Just to muddy the waters further...

      I remember BT calling it a gate, when they made the move to keypad phones with * and # in the early 80s. They used US practice for several things, but wouldn't copy the "pound sign" terminology in the UK to avoid confusion. It was widely known that the "proper" name was octothorpe but no-one wanted to put that in customer documentation.

  16. Steve 114

    I insist on calling it "hatch". That's because printers used to use whole blocks of them to do cross-hatching. 'Hash' makes no sense and is annoying.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Hash" Is also a term used for making a mess of something. As in "you've made a hash of that". In writing/drawing a crossing out - using horizontal and vertical lines - would then indicate a mistake or something to ignore. In woodwork we were taught to mark cross-hatching on the area of wood to be removed for a joint before starting to cut it.

    There is also the food term as in "corned beef hash" - meaning "mashed up"? Does that mean "hash" and "mash" are related?

    1. Irony Deficient Silver badge

      Re: Hash

      Anonymous Coward, hashed browned potatoes (“hash browns”) in Leftpondia typically start from grated potato, closer to Swiss rösti. The spudly component of corned beef hash here is diced rather than mashed, so the “hash” in this case is more of a mix than a mess — perhaps “corned beef jumble” would have been a less ambiguous term for the version here.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Hash

      Does that mean "hash" and "mash" are related?

      Not closely, according to the OED, though I wouldn't be surprised to learn they have common Indo-European roots. "hash" is from French cognates and the oldest OED citations are from the seventeenth century; "mash" is found in Old English and the OED cites back to circa 1000.

      "hatch" appears to be of similar provenance to "mash", and similarly unrelated to "hash", though as the article points out its likely that there are cases where "hatch" became "hash" through use and contagation. But that's hardly uncommon in English; such seemingly related words as "lunch" and "luncheon" may have unrelated derivation, as any fule kno.

  18. TRT Silver badge

    For mash...

    get hash?

  19. Shonko Kid

    " + the surname Thorpe."

    a 'thorpe' is an old word meaning field, probably of norse origin, common in and around Yorkshire place names. AFAIK the reasoning behind the name octothorpe was that it 'looked' like a village surrounded by 8 fields.

    Obviously the surname Thorpe has the same roots, equivalent to the surname Field(s).

    1. DJO Silver badge

      Re: " + the surname Thorpe."

      AFAIK the reasoning behind the name octothorpe was that it 'looked' like a village surrounded by 8 fields.

      Frank Muir: Well that sounds so attractively plausible I'll have to say (shuffles around desk for card), Bluff!

      Robert Robinson: And you Patrick?

      Patrick Campbell: W,w,w,well in that era they'd p,p,p,probably wouldn't use the prefix octo, it'd be hectothorpe so I'll have to go along with Fr,r,rank on t,t,t,this one, Bluff.

      And so on until the Beeb canned Call my Bluff.

      1. jebdra

        Re: " + the surname Thorpe."

        One of the very best comedy shows ever made. I really wish I could find a copy (beg/borrow/steal or buy - anything). Damn the BBC - they did some things so well and then just threw them away.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: " + the surname Thorpe."

      This theory is dealt with in the articles linked to by Peter Simpson 1 in one of the first comments on the article. It is dubious.

  20. StorageBuddhist


    Clearly crosshatch, corrupted to hash

    "(often as noun cross-hatching) (In drawing or graphics) shade (an area) with intersecting sets of parallel lines"

  21. John65

    unofficially # = crunch, ! = bang

    haha, English is a wonderful evolving language with many names and meanings for a single symbol.

    One unofficial(?) usage is # = crunch, ! = bang which leads me to a great, light weight Debian based Linux distro called #! or CrunchBang - a nimble Openbox Linux Distro

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: unofficially # = crunch, ! = bang

      One unofficial(?) usage

      This is English. All usage is unofficial, due to the lack of a generally-recognized office of usage for the language.

  22. Boris71w

    Was I living in a parallel universe? When I was a kid in 60s England everyone knew the # symbol stood for 'Number'. It was also on British manual typewriters as 'the number key' but I thought it was an Americanism as I was a collector of comics and new Marvel/DC comics were always marketed as "edition #1 out now!". With the coming of push-button phones in the 60s/70s, the # made an appearance on home phones and was still known as the 'number key' but nobody knew what it was for. The term "Hash" seemed to me to come in with home computers in the late 70s/early 80s - I seem to remember references to 'hash' and sometimes 'hatch' when typing in Basic games from magazines for my Sinclair Spectrum

    1. Don Jefe

      Yes, 1960's England was most certainly a parallel universe. Many people from our universe were transported there accidentally in the course of multistage nuclear weapons research. It took a while to get an effective counter spell worked out, but in the end the proper mix of privatization, benefits reduction and offshoring was found and the gate to 1960's England was forever closed.

  23. A Known Coward

    1961 or 1970s ???

    You've quoted the OED saying that the Octothorpe originated in the 1970s, but then you quote them saying "By 1961 Hash was being used to refer to the octothorpe symbol". If the Octothorpe originated in the 70s it can't have been around in 1961 ... So which is correct?

  24. BongoJoe

    At last. Perhaps now people will beleive me when I call it the 'octothorpe'.

    I also call the plus sign the 'quadrothorpe' and the miinus sign the 'bithorpe'. I don't know if they are legit terms but it helps to annoy the wife.

    1. Darryl

      What about the pentathorpe? Sounds much better than 'asterisk'

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      I don't see much basis for calling the minus sign (or the n- or m-dash, etc) a "bithorpe". I'd accept "monothorpe".

      If you want a bithorpe, I suggest the carat. (The caron would also work but comes up less often.) There are also of course the "angle brackets", but those have nomenclature problems enough already.

  25. Zane

    So what's the name in other languages?

    In German, people like to call it "Schweinegatter" (pig fence), for obvious reasons.

    When I was small, I was taught it is the number sign - as apparently Brits wrote #1, #2, ... meaning number one, number two,...

    I always though it was called "pound sign", as it was used for British pound on typewriters that didn't have a pound sign, due to the fact it was at the same position. Well, I learned typewriting on a machine with the pound sign, which I think was however rather unusual in Germany.

    Then I know people who call it "railroad crossing", I guess for obvious reasons as well.

    Why it's called a hash, I have no idea. Then people call associative arrays hashes, which is confusing the specification with the implementation. So I guess people like to use the word hash when they don't know what they are talking about.

    Yep, it then it seems a lot of people call it sharp, that's why C# is pronounced C-sharp, isn't it?


    1. zooooooom

      Re: So what's the name in other languages?

      > that's why C# is pronounced C-sharp, isn't it?

      Embrace, extend, extinguish.

    2. The First Dave

      Re: So what's the name in other languages?

      " that's why C# is pronounced C-sharp, isn't it?"

      No, my colleagues and I laughed out loud when MS brought out C-Hash, since it was clearly well named.

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: So what's the name in other languages?

      Why it's called a hash, I have no idea

      From the article we are all commenting on:

      The OED does note, however, that "Hash probably arose as an alteration of 'hatch', originally in the phrase 'hatch mark'.

  26. Michael C.

    Just to sum up the comments thus far...

    octothorpe, hash, crosshatch, hatch, sharp, pound, number sign, crunch, gate

  27. ukgnome

    Has anyone thought to.....

    ask Stephen Fry?

    1. Peter Ford

      Re: Has anyone thought to.....

      At least we'd know which was the wrong answer then...

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    And of course, in a medical context, it's shorthand for "fracture", as anyone who studied Charlie Fairhead's whiteboard in Casualty would know...

  29. Tom 13

    I think hashtag is emminently descriptive.

    If you're looking at anything that has been tagged by one, you can bet it is a complete hash.

  30. earl grey

    French or Klingon or Gibberish

    That's purely redundant.

    I reject out of hand calling # an octothorpe as pulling a nonsense name from one's arse may be entertaining, but certainly not a valid naming convention.

  31. John F***ing Stepp

    And what is wierd is

    The first recorded name for "#" in an English publication out of a British writer (presumably) was an octocet.

    So I kind of laughed when Bell Labs coined octothorpe thinking, well reading.

    (which they didn't do.)

    But they got away with it so I have taken to calling it a tic-tac-toe game for ants.

  32. #Steve

    n, not p! It was an historical misprint!

    Many years ago I suggested that it be changed (or corrected) to "octothorne", on the assumption that the p was a misprint. "Octothorne" is a precise visual definition.

    Sincerely, #steve

This topic is closed for new posts.

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