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An octothorpe

Alternative forms[edit]


Origin disputed. Reportedly a jocular coinage by Bell Labs supervisor Don MacPherson in the early 1960s, from octo- ‎(eight), with reference to its eight points, + -thorpe (after 1912 Olympic medalist Jim Thorpe, in whom MacPherson was interested). However, Doug Kerr [1] attributes octatherp to a practical joke by engineers John C. Schaak, Herbert T. Uthlaut, and Lauren Asplund upon himself and Howard Eby.

The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories (1991) supports octotherp as the original spelling, and telephone engineers as the source.

The highly regarded Canadian poet, book designer and typographer, Robert Bringhurst, subscribes to an older, alternate origin of the term:

"In cartography, [the octothorp] is a traditional symbol for village: eight fields around a central square. That is the source of its name. Octothorp means eight fields." (From octo- ‎(eight) and thorpe ‎(field, hamlet or small village).)



octothorpe ‎(plural octothorpes)

  1. (chiefly US) The hash or square symbol (#), used mainly in telephony and computing
    • 1982, Willard R. Espy, A Children's Almanac of Words at Play, Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., page 230
      Octothorp is the # on a push-button telephone. Rumor at the telephone company is that a man named Charles B. Octothorp, wanting to make his name famous...
    • 2004, Andrew Pitonyak, Openoffice.Org Macros Explained, Hentzenwerke, page 139
      Strings are enclosed in double quotation marks, numbers are not enclosed in anything, and dates and Boolean values are enclosed between octothorpe (#) characters.



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