Skip to main content
  1. Arts & Entertainment
  2. Books

Hash, pound, number... and fields?

See also

It's in the public eye more than ever. With social networks such as Facebook and Twitter (and their related integrations on a myriad of other websites), the mysterious symbol has arguably become a part of the human consciousness either due to active use or latent awareness. Why does the # glyph have so many names? Where did it originate?

The British call it the "number sign" since "pound sign" could easily be confused with their currency. As such, it is often spoken as the word "number" when read aloud. Its newest name is the hashtag, but the oldest is probably the one the Brits eschew. "Pound sign" arose from the abbreviation for weight--lb meaning "libra pondo" or "pound by weight" in Latin. To denote that the two letters aren't part of a word, many Latin scribes would cross the top of the two letters with a line. Eventually, the # was born.

Although "pound sign" may be the first widely-used title for the # symbol, octothorpe is its official name. Lab technicians and scientists developed a new word to christen the symbol's importance on the telephone keypad. In the 1960s, Bell Laboratories added the octothorpe so that the telephone operating system would be able to recognize instructions. "Octo-" was inspired by the number of ends within the symbol, and the rest is rather unclear. The three most popular stories are that a lab employee named it after the Olympian Jim Thorpe, the suffix is simply a nonsense word, and that "thorpe" is an Old Norse word meaning "field." The latter example would make "octothorpe" mean "eight fields," which has significantly more etymological substance than any other surmise.

The "hash" prefix that is very popular today could actually be traced back to descriptions of military stripes on uniforms as early as 1910. About 70 years later, the word has become a lot more civilian-friendly... and considerably more social.

What do you call the # symbol?



Arts & Entertainment

  • Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin
    Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin continue to be weird with an official breakup ceremony
    Today's Buzz
  • Pharrell
    From Snoop Dogg to Pharrell, these special guests at Coachella gave fans quite the surprise
    Music Buzz
  • George Kotsiopoulos
    'Fashion Police' host George Kotsiopoulos dishes on dressing like a star and more
    Celebrity Q&A
  • Credit cards
    Find out why a man named God is suing a credit rating agency
    Pop Culture
  • Kate Upton
    Kate Upton isn't happy with the one part of her body that most men dream about
    Celebrity Buzz
  • Johnny Depp
    Johnny Depp has been subpoenaed to testify in a bizarre murder trial involving a limo driver

User login

Log in
Sign in with your email and password. Or reset your password.
Write for us
Interested in becoming an Examiner and sharing your experience and passion? We're always looking for quality writers. Find out more about and apply today!