Saturday, 21 May 2016

Making A Hash Of Things

I have learned two new words recently. The first, courtesy of Steph, is octothorpe. Which is what you probably know as the hashtag. I researched this new word and discovered the following information.
The # symbol is commonly called the pound sign, number sign or the hashtag. It is called the pound sign because the symbol comes from the abbreviation for weight, or “libra pondo” in Latin. When writing lb, it was not uncommon for scribes to cross the letters across the top with a line across the top, like a t. The phrase “number sign” arose in Britain because “pound sign” could easily be confused with the British currency. The # symbol is sometimes spoken as the word “number” as in the word “number two pencil.”
But the octothorpe? It’s a made-up word, invented in the 1960s by scientists at Bell Laboratories. They modified the telephone keypad and added the # symbol to send instructions to the telephone operating system. Since their # symbol didn’t have a name, the technicians made one up. They knew it should be called “octo-something"because it has eight ends around the edge. What happened next is not entirely clear. According to one employee, they named it after US Olympian Jim Thorpe. Another claims it was a jokey nonsense word. Another unverifiable report is much more etymologically satisfying. The Old Norse word “thorpe” meant “farm or field”, so octothorpe literally means “eight fields.”[bizarre, when you count the nine sections!]

The word hash predates this, chopped food back in the 1600s, and stripes on military jackets in 1910. In the 1980s, it came to refer to the # symbol. Since the ascent of social media, hashtag has become the usual name for the # symbol. Similar symbols appear in many other places. Musicians, like Kezzie, recognize # as the sharp symbol, denoting a note one half step higher. Copy editors see a symbol meaning “space,” as in “add a space between two sentences.” In computer code, the # symbol means that everything that follows is only comment, not instructions. Nobody is really sure about Octothorpe, and there are other even weirder stories [here] I think I shall just use hashtag, and keep octothorpe for Quiz Nights.

My other newly learned word is Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon involving a stimulus (an image or a sound) wherein the mind perceives a familiar pattern of something where none actually exists. For instance, images of animals, faces, or objects perceived in cloud formations. The word is derived from the Greek words para (παρά, "beside, instead [of]") and the noun eidōlonδωλον "shape). I learned this whilst listened to a brilliant programme about the weather on Radio 4. Kezzie frequently posts cloud formations and asks for our interpretations.
She is not alone. Can I mention Hamlet here?
“Hamlet: Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel?
Polonius: By the mass, and ‘tis like a camel, indeed.
Hamlet: Methinks it is like a weasel.
Polonius: It is backed like a weasel.
Hamlet: Or like a whale?
Polonius: Very like a whale.”

Or maybe one of my favourite Peanuts cartoons...I think I am more like Charlie Brown than Polonius!


  1. That was fun to learn both of those words! I love both the Hamlet quote and the Peanuts cartoon!

  2. I learn something new everyday and I've had a chuckle aswell.


Always glad to hear from you - thanks for stopping by!
I am blocking anonymous comments now, due to excessive spam!