RE: Labels on forms: Abbreviate or use symbols?

Subject: RE: Labels on forms: Abbreviate or use symbols?
From: "Al Geist" <al -dot- geist -at- geistassociates -dot- com>
To: "'Fred Ridder'" <docudoc -at- hotmail -dot- com>, <leonard -dot- porrello -at- soleratec -dot- com>, <cmagadieu -at- gmail -dot- com>, <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 18 Feb 2010 14:02:34 -0500

Well put Fred??we all use? and ?really called? tend to include a lot of
people that aren?t in either group. I learned the term octothorpe way back
in the 1970s (probably around the same time the term was invented; although,
I learned it from a former supervisor who never worked for Bell Labs). Good
thing I don?t play trivia anymore?..

Al Geist

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From: Fred Ridder [mailto:docudoc -at- hotmail -dot- com]
Sent: Thursday, February 18, 2010 1:52 PM
To: Al Geist; leonard -dot- porrello -at- soleratec -dot- com; cmagadieu -at- gmail -dot- com;
techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: RE: Labels on forms: Abbreviate or use symbols?

Al Geist wrote:

> To follow what Leonard was saying....the number sign "#" we all use is
> really called an "octothorpe."

Well, both "we all use" and "really called" kind of overstate things, I
Outside of North America, the symbol in question is *not* widely used as a
substitute for "number". In most countries with languages with Latin roots,
the "number sign" is some variation on the "numero sign", which typically
uses a capital N and a superscripted, underlined O. (In a Unicode font this
is code point U+2116.)
And as to "octothorpe", according to the American Heritage Dictionary (as
cited on, the term was invented at Bell Labs in the 1960s.
According to Wikipedia "Beginning in the 1960s, telephone engineers have
attempted to coin a special name for this symbol, with variant spellings
including octothorp, octothorpe, octathorp, and octatherp. None has become
universal or widely accepted."
Calling the symbol "number sign" just underscores why Bell Labs felt the
need to invent a new word. How would most people in the early days of
Touch-Tone telephones have reacted to an instruction to "press the number
sign key" (or worse yet, just "press the number key") on a telephone keypad
which has ten keys with actual numbers on them and only one with a number
*sign*. But instead of adopting the Bell Labs word, most telephone users and
operators in the US used the word that referred to an earlier use of the
symbol, which was for pounds of weight, e.g. "a 10# sack of potatos". In
Canadian telephone systems, the symbol is referred to as the "number sign"
and some phone systems have a configuration option for Canadian pronuciation
of prompts (e.g. "number sign" and "zed") instead of US pronunciation
("pound" and "zee".) And one big advantage of "pound" over either "number
sign" or "octothorpe" is that it is a single syllable.

> However, it's a lot easier to say "number
> sign," unless you're deep in the middle of a trivia game and you're
> loosing....

And for some real trivia, how about the fact that pressing Shift+3 on a
computer keyboard will get you a "pound sign" whether you are using a US
keyboard (in which case you get a #) or a UK keyboard (in which case you'll
get a £).
-Fred Ridder


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RE: Labels on forms: Abbreviate or use symbols?: From: Fred Ridder

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