Tuesday, December 30, 2014
David asked about the hashtag, a symbol used in various social media. He expressed confusion because he had learned it as the pound sign.
The function of the hashtag is to turn the un-spaced words that follow a hash sign (#) into a searchable link. This allows users on social networks to find messages related to that specific topic. The Oxford English Dictionary shows the first written instance in 2007. Hash came from the word hatch, which—since the 17th century—has been used in to signify an engraved line, especially a set used to represent shading.
Along with David, I was taught to call the symbol a pound sign. Others call it a hash mark, a number sign, a crisscross, or a tic-tac-toe sign. The word octothorp(e) was used in the 1960s at Bell Laboratories, but the full origin is disputed. The octo- segment is clear: there are eight points in the symbol. The –thorp(e) portion has various explanations.
Some say that thorp (Middle English for a small town) is represented on a map by the #. I haven’t been able to confirm that. Others say that a Bell Lab employee (Don Macpherson) was active in a group working to get Jim Thorpe’s Olympic medals returned. Then there’s the school of thought that says the name is totally fabricated. Since the octo- word part indisputably means eight, that loses some probability. Ring this one up as uncertain.
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