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Posted by Barney Scott on September 18, 2000

In Reply to: OCTOTHORP posted by Bob on September 13, 2000

: : : Here's something interesting. But, why do we now call it the "pound" sign.
: : :
: : : (AHK-tuh-thorp)
: : : (n.) The "pound" sign, "number sign," or "tictactoe sign"

: : : Also spelled "octothorpe," this name for the "#" symbol dates from the 1960s. The story goes that it was coined by employee at Bell Labs after the telephone company introduced the # key on then-new
: : : touch-tone phone systems. When instructing their first new client in the use of the new system, employee Don Macpherson supposedly dubbed that particular key the "octothorp." He chose "octo-" because of the
: : : symbol's eight points, and added "thorpe" because at the time he belonged to a group trying to get the Olympic medals of the athlete Jim Thorpe returned from Sweden.

: : : That's the story, anyway. But lacking firmer proof, the few dictionaries that even include this word fudge the issue, noting that its origin is "unknown." Another suggested origin involves the fact
: : : that "thorpe" is Old Norse for "farm" or "village": Some have suggested that octothorpe is so named because the # resembles eight fields around a village. Suffice to say, it's not often that you hear "Please enter your password, followed by the 'octothorp'."

: : Well, nobody in the UK calls the '#' a 'Pound sign'. The pound - UK sterling; not the 'lb' type of pound - has it's own symbol which has remained the same for a good few years now (certainly pre-dates 1960) and seems fairly widely accepted. Sorry I can't be of more help.

: Assuming the # sign does appear on UK telephones, what do you call it?

According to ('Free Online Dictionary
of Computing'):

1. "#", ASCII code 35.

Common names: number sign; pound; pound sign; hash; sharp; crunch; hex; INTERCAL: mesh. Rare: grid; crosshatch; octothorpe; flash; ITU-T: square, pig-pen;
tictactoe; scratchmark; thud; thump; splat.

The pronunciation of "#" as "pound" is common in the US but a bad idea; Commonwealth Hackish has its own, rather more apposite use of "pound sign"
(confusingly, on British keyboards the pound graphic happens to replace "#"; thus Britishers sometimes call "#" on a US-ASCII keyboard "pound", compounding the
American error). The US usage derives from an old-fashioned commercial practice of using a "#" suffix to tag pound weights on bills of lading. The character is
usually pronounced "hash" outside the US "

Most British programmers would call it a hash symbol; but no-one
outside computing would understand that. The only time I've heard
it used on phones, they called it the square key. I think most British
people avoid using it altogether, since we don't have an agreed name
for it. 'Tictactoe' would be a good name, except that the game is called
'noughts and crosses' in Britain.