Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Word for Wednesday: Octothorpe


So today (Wednesday) I stumbled upon the word of the day, which is: Octothorpe. Definition: the symbol # (as defined by Merriam-Webster). Octothorpe, known in these times more popularly as the hashtag, has a murky and vague history of it's etymology. There seems to be no clear record of when or how exactly the word Octothorpe came to be. However, one of the more interesting explanations I found of it is from a fun website called Shady Characters -- The Secrect Life of Punctuation

The Roman term for a pound in weight was libra pondo, where libra means scales or balances (from which the constellation takes its name)[2] and where pondo comes from the verb pendere, to weigh.[3]...Some time in the late 14th century the abbreviation ‘lb’ for libra entered English,[*] and according to common scribal practice it was accessorised with a line drawn across the letters to highlight the use of a contraction.[6] Jotted down in haste, as can be seen in Isaac Newton’s elegant scrawl below, ‘℔’ was transformed into ‘#’ by the carelessly rushing pens of successive scribes.[7] Originally so common that some early typecutters provided a dedicated letter punch for it, but now considerably outshone by both predecessor and descendant, ‘℔’ has become a typographic missing link.[†]

Parallel to all this, libra’s estranged partner pondo was also changing. Where libra had become ‘lb’ and subsequently ‘#’ through the urgency of the scribe’s pen, pondo was instead subjected to the vagaries of the spoken tongue. The Latin pondo became first the Old English pund, (sharing a common Germanic root with the German Pfund) and subsequently the modern word ‘pound’.[9] Libra and pondo were reunited, and ‘#’, the ‘pound sign’, was born.

The "#" symbol is a perplexing study of many different meanings. Some of them are well known (denoting numbers or the weight of something or to tell everyone what's trending). But some of less well known ones are its use to express checkmate in chess, proofreaders utilize it to note the insertion of a space, and it is the way musicians denote when a note should be sharp. 

It doesn't only have many different meanings, but also a plethora of monikers by which it is called:

 The ‘#’ has names almost as varied as its uses, and aside from the prosaic ‘number’, ‘pound’ or ‘hash’ sign, it is or has been variously known as the ‘crunch’, ‘hex’, ‘flash’, ‘grid’, ‘tic-tac-toe’, ‘pig-pen’ or ‘square’.[21],[22] In most cases, a name can be trivially linked to the character’s shape or to its function in a particular context, but its most elliptical alias does not give up its secrets so easily. The story of how the ‘#’ symbol came to be known as the ‘octothorpe’ is entirely more tortuous. (via:

So there you have it, folks. Octothorpe, one of the many mysterious meanings of the # 

#octothorpe--see what I did there?

If you are interested in checking out the full story behind this baffling punctuation, it can be found in 2 parts here:

And I will leave you with one more meme:


 ^Seriously, how great is that?!?!

That's all for now grammar nerds and grammar plebians.

Till next time!

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