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Word of the Week: Octothorpe

Word of the Week: Octothorpe

# HashtagThis week’s word of the week is ‘Octothorpe’. The social media savvy among us will be familiar with an octothorpe but perhaps not this specific term. Octothorpe is the original word for the now-famous hashtag symbol. But the hashtag was not always so popular. Once upon a time, it merely sat unused on the telephone keypad.


Over the years, the hashtag has had many functions and many different names. You might be familiar with some of these:

* Hash * Pound (lb) * Number * Grid * Crosshatch * Scratchmark * Square * Tic-tac-toe * Crunch  * Diamond * Sharp * Mesh * Splat * Hex * Flash * Pig-Pen * Octothorpe

These days a hashtag is a metadata tag. We frequently use hashtags across social media platforms as a tag to cross-reference content tagged with the same terms. Hashtags allow you to view posts tagged with specific topics together. The hashtag originates from Roman times. But it only acquired the name Octothorpe in 1968, when Bell Labs in the US added the symbol to the keypad of telephones.

Proofreaders Princes Risborough

The origins of the name are a bit of a mystery. An array of people have claimed responsibility for christening the symbol the ‘octothorpe’. The most popular origin states that ‘Octo’- meaning eight, refers to the eight lines that stick out of the symbol. Allegedly, ‘Thorpe’ is a reference to the American athlete Jim Thorpe. Those responsible for naming the symbol were supposedly fans of the Olympic gold medalist.

Other popular stories about the christening of the octothorpe include:

  • The octothorpe was named to irritate international speakers who would struggle to pronounce the term.
  • It was named after James Oglethorpe, a British General responsible for discovering the US state of Georgia.
  • ‘Thorpe’ is an old Norse word for a village. It’s suggested that the criss-cross symbol was named for looking like a plot of eight (octo) fields surrounding a village (thorpe).

The Rich Life of the Hashtag

The hashtag symbol has had many uses over the years, including:

  • Being referenced as the Latin word for pound (lb), short for libra. pondo (pound in weight).
  • For usage in computer coding. Coupled with an exclamation mark (#!) the symbols become identified as a Shebang, which is used at the beginning of a script.
  • As a function on the keypad of a telephone for signifying numbers on automated customer service systems.
  • In musical notation e.g. F# (sharp).
  • On Swedish maps to reference a lumber yard.
  • From the 1870s, when it was present on the American Qwerty typewriter. Yet in modern times there’s no room for the # on the Mac keyboard. To create a hashtag you need to use the Alt-3 function.
  • To indicate weight and numbers.
  • As a symbol for checkmate in chess.
  • To reference that a space is required between words when proofreading.
  • The usage of three hashtags to signify the end of a press release.

Hashtag Octothorpe

So, while the # has had a rich life, it finally gained celebrity status when used in Twitter statuses from 2007. Its popularity spread from there. Although if we still referred to the hashtag as the octothorpe, it might not have shared the same success. #Octothorpe