Re: Technical name for the #?

Subject: Re: Technical name for the #?
From: "Beckton, Jon" <jbeckton -at- MHS7 -dot- TNS -dot- CO -dot- ZA>
Date: Mon, 30 Nov 1998 09:55:36 +0200

Good morning,
Re the #, alt-usage-english-FAQ, mentioned on the Techwhirl Resources page,
has this to say:

names of "&", "@", and "#"
(The lists of names given in this entry are DELIBERATELY incomplete. For
a comprehensive list of formal and informal terms for these and many other
keyboard symbols, see the entry ASCII in the Jargon File.)
"&" is called "ampersand".
The longest name for "@" is "commercial at sign"; the first and last
words may each be omitted. The official ANSI/CCITT name is "commercial at".
There are actually two typeset symbols, with distinct histories, for
which we use "#" in ASCII text. One (with horizontal strokes slanted and
thicker than the vertical strokes) is the musical "sharp (sign)", as in "the
key of C# major". The other (with vertical strokes slanted) is called
"number (sign)", as in "the team finished in the #5 position", or "pound
(sign)", referring to weight, as in "a 5# bag of potatoes". Although use of
this sign to denote weight has declined, "pound" is the most widely used
name for it in the U.S. But it confuses people who expect that term to mean
the symbol for sterling currency (located on many British keyboards in the
same place as "#" is found on U.S. keyboards). "Number sign", adopted by
ANSI/CCITT, is unambiguous, but little known in both the U.K. and the U.S.
Computer-users in the U.K. usually call the symbol a "hash", from its
appearance (reminiscent of marks one might make when chopping). Finally,
in a failed attempt to avoid the naming problem by creating a new name, the
term "octothorp(e)" (which MWCD10 dates 1971) was invented for "#",
allegedly by Bell Labs engineers when touch-tone telephones were introduced
in the mid-1960s. "Octo-" means eight, and "thorp" was an Old English word
for _village_: apparently the sign was playfully construed as eight fields
surrounding a village. Another story has it that a Bell Labs supervisor
named Don MacPherson coined the word from the number of endpoints and from
the surname of U.S. athlete James Francis Thorpe. Merriam-Webster Editorial
Department told me: "All of the stories you record are known to us, but the
evidence does not line up nicely behind any one of them."
The (massive) full text of the FAQ can be found at
.html and is, IMHO, very useful.

Jon Beckton
South Africa

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