Tilting at hashtags

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Today's Non Sequitur:

In other doomed campaigns, a "Sea Star Fun Fact" from the Maritime Aquarium (echoed in the Wikipedia entry on Jellyfish)

Try not to call these cool shoreline creatures "starfish." Sea stars aren't fish, so the proper name is "sea star." (Similarly, call them jellies, not jellyfish.)

And then there's Paul Krugman's "Questions About Student Writing", 5/21/2014:

1. How can we incentivize students to stop using “impact” as a verb?

2. How can we impact their writing in a way that stops them from using the word “incentivize”?

3. Can we make it a principal principle of writing that “principle” and “principal” mean different things, and you have to know which is which?

That is all.

 PK's three points are interestingly different. In a hundred years, the animus against "incentivize" will seems as puzzling as Richard Grant White's 1870 assertion that jeopardize is "a foolish and intolerable word", or Edwin Newman's 1976 strong objections to prioritize, personalize, traumatize, and hospitalize. (For historical perspective, back to 1591, see "Centuries of disgust and horror?", 3/16/2009.)

Similarly, future generations will be as puzzled by concern about "impact" as a verb as we are today about the The Nation's 1917 objection to the use of function as a verb, or urge as a noun, as an "inexcusable irregularity of style". (For details, see "In this day of slack style…", 9/2/2012.)

But I predict that a hundred years from now, writers (and not just student writers) will still commonly confuse the spelling of "principle" and "principal", although the  official story about which is which will not have changed.  English spelling is established by top-down conventions that are difficult to change, whereas word usage is established by, well, word usage.


  1. Stan Carey said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 7:18 am

    I edit a lot of academic prose and I see principal and principle confused very regularly, sometimes even by school principals.

    Hatred of impact as a verb meaning affect/influence seems unlikely to fade any time soon. I don't care for the usage, but it seems well-established.

    Incentivise, though it can sometimes be replaced with motivate or some other semi-synonym, has a useful niche of its own.

    [(myl) Objections to urge-the-noun and function-the-verb arose just as those usages were spreading (I've marked 1917 on the plots below):

    A century later, it's hard to find people who are even aware that there was once a problem. So do you think that impact-the-verb will still stir passions after a century of stable usage?

    It seems that the half-life of this class of peeves is normally about 25 years, so that after a century the intensity is reduced to 1/16 = 6.25% of the original level. Or maybe the exponential-decay metaphor is wrong, and it's just that once a novel usage reaches a stable level and stays there for a few decades, younger people no longer have any reason to be taken aback.

    Sometimes endorsement by an eminent prescriptivist elevates particular peeves to Zombie status, where they can remain active indefinitely; but this usually happens with grammatical "rules" that were never true to start with, not with word-usage objections that arise because of morphological novelty.

    However, impact-the-verb may be an exception — see the AHD usage note.]

  2. Martin J Ball said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 7:46 am

    Is the impact-hatred just US? I don't recall any such feeling among British English speakers…?

    [(myl) The OED entry (not recently updated) gives these examples:

    1935 W. G. Hardy Father Abraham 370 For there was about them an air of eagerness and of shuddering expectation which impacted on his consciousness and fascinated even while it repelled him.
    1956 Oxf. Mag. 8 Nov. 81/1 The Magazine.. is not the place for consideration of national and international events except in so far as they impact on Oxford.

    But it would not surprise me to find some recent self-appointed authority complaining about impact-the-verb as an "Americanism".]

  3. GeorgeW said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 8:01 am

    I guess the question about Krugman's peeves is, to what extent should teachers accept non-standard usage which may or may not become standard in the future? I would think that 'principal' for 'principle' is clearly over the line in an academic paper. "Incentivize?" Hmm. "Impact?" Too informal for a formal paper?

    [(myl) So far this year, the NYT has printed "incentivize" 11 times in articles, e.g. from Josh Barro on April 22 "But when there are almost seven applicants for every opening, as at the depths of this recent downturn, it becomes much less important to incentivize people to work"; and "to impact" 9 times, e.g. from Tom Friedman on May 7 "But the serious way to weaken Putin, whose economy and government budget is hugely dependent on $100-plus-a-barrel-oil, is with an American domestic grand bargain on energy that unleashes forces that, over time, begin to impact the global price and availability of oil and gas". Frankly, I think the battle is over on those cases — Prof. Krugman is just too old or too brainwashed to have noticed.

    The confusing spelling of principle/principal is a completely different kind of thing — it's not a matter of formality or of style or of novel coinages, it's a just a case of confusing spelling.]

  4. GeorgeW said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 8:17 am

    myl: Do academic journals accept 'incentivize' and 'impact' (verb)? If so, I think Krugman would be out of line and would have no basis for challenging his students.

    [(myl) A simple Google Scholar search finds 73,900 hits for forms of "incentivize", 1,590,000 hits for "to impact", and 285,000 hits for "impacted by". Not all of these are in well-edited journals; and some of the "to impact" hits are nouns rather than verbs ("…response of joints to impact loading…") but tens of thousands of instances of both usages can be found in reasonably recent editions of first-rank journals.]

  5. Ø said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 8:24 am

    I would have thought Bert would still be calling it the "number sign".

  6. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 8:28 am

    Outside North America,especially in the UK, Bert's campaign could be to get people to call it a hash instead of a pound sign.

    [(myl) For those who care about such things: "The 'pound sign' mystery", 7/18/2010.]

  7. Eric P Smith said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 8:31 am

    @Martin J Ball: I'm British and I suffer from impact-hatred. But I do like 'impinge'.

  8. Eric P Smith said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 8:34 am

    To any Brit, calling # a pound sign sounds very odd. To us Brits, a pound sign is £ (the pound sterling).

  9. D-AW said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 8:41 am

    I posted on the verb "incent" a while back, which I thought might be a hypercorrection due to widespread "incentivize" peevery:

    …From all this I conclude that, until September 2003 (or as long as I cling to my paper or CD ROM OED2), I am correct in considering “incent” odious, not only as a back formation, but worse, also as a hypercorrection. And after September 2003, everybody priggishly using “incent” is not only priggish but, worse, also correct.
    ("Incent, Incentivize – Authority always wins" – Poetry & Contingency 18.01.13).

    I hardly ever see "incent" as the subject of peeves, but I do hear it in the wild from time to time. I wonder how peevers can have such strong intuitions about "incentivize" and not about "incent". Is -ize automatically registered as a productive ending, and therefore always under suspicion?

    [(myl) Peeving about -ize has a glorious tradition stretching back to the 16th century. See "Centuries of disgust and horror", 3/16/2009.]

  10. Michael said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 8:45 am

    What's interesting here is that PK constantly rails against popular pseudoscientific notions regarding his field, which is as plagued with folk beliefs as is linguistics. In particular, the distrust of fiat money resembles the belief that without some kind of authority setting standards that people actually follow, languages will fall apart. After all, money and language function as interlocking sets of social conventions.

    I actually left some comments pointing out the parallels on his blog, but I guess he doesn't prioritize his comments or they don't impact his principals.

  11. GeorgeW said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 8:55 am

    D-AW: It does seem that /-ize/ is quite productive. However, it does have phonological constraints. It doesn't comfortably attach to adjectives ending in a stressed syllable (e.g. corrupt, obscene, etc.)

  12. Ben Zimmer said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 9:04 am

    As for how the meaning of "hashtag" got transferred from 'hash symbol + string of characters' to 'hash symbol itself' (as in the Non Sequitur strip), see my 2011 Word Routes column and the Spring 2013 installment of "Among the New Words" in American Speech.

  13. Robert Coren said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 9:39 am

    What's all this "pound" and "hash" nonsense? It's an octothorpe. (I actually really like the French name, règle chemin de fer -> "railroad rule".)

  14. Richard Hershberger said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 9:40 am

    Regarding the starfish peeve, it is anachronistic. The word dates to the 16th century, long before Linnaean taxonomy was dreamt of. It is quite literally meaningless to criticize a 16th century usage for implying that the creature in question is not today classified as a fish. It is unrealistic to expect popular usage to change to match subsequent technical redefinitions of common words.

    As for the complaint about impact as a verb, I insert my standard bemusement that anyone who has ever opened a dictionary at random can think that words being used both as verbs and as nouns is anything other than standard in English.

  15. Vicki said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 10:46 am

    Octothorp, damn it!

  16. Ron said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 11:06 am

    @D-AW: I hear "incent" constantly in business/technical settings and it drives me crazy. I wasn't aware until now that "incentivize" was ever an issue. FWIW, I think it's just biz-speak jargon rather than an over-correction. The people I've heard use it are, to put it mildly, unlikely to be grammatical prescriptivists.

    By the way, just the other day I heard "solution" used as a verb for the very first time. It was used to mean "to decide upon a solution." Paraphrasing, I was told that "We still had an opportunity to provide alternatives, because the client hadn't solutioned that feature yet."

  17. Levantine said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 11:17 am

    When I moved to the States and first tried to receive my voicemail, I was so flummoxed by what the prerecorded voice was telling me ("please press [mystery word]") that I had to stop a passerby and ask his help. He immediately let me know that the word I couldn't make out was "pound" and then showed me where this was on my phone, at which point I realised it was what I knew as "hash".

    Funnily enough, British Telecom always insisted on calling it "square" back when I used to use their alarm-call service.

  18. Levantine said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 11:22 am

    That was meant to be "retrieve my email".

  19. Levantine said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 11:23 am

    "retrieve my voicemail", even! I wish one could go back and edit comments here.

  20. George Amis said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 11:32 am

    I wonder if the Maritime Aquarium finds it necessary insist that seahorses aren't horses and that sea cucumbers aren't cucumbers.

  21. cameron said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 11:32 am

    Comments above seem to think Krugman is really peeving about these usages. Seems to me he's being sarcastic and making fun of peevers.

  22. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 12:13 pm

    "Incent" seems more or less synonymous with "incentivize" and it seems at least not implausible that peeving against the latter might have contributed to the rise (I think still only in specialized subcultures/speech communities) of the former.

  23. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 12:51 pm

    "Incent" incenses me even more than "incentivize".

    The objection to "impact" is more than just anti-verbed-noun peeving. The word also reminds people of destructive collisions and painful wisdom teeth. Some of the same people, including me, dislike "We're trying to have some impact on these young people's lives." I wouldn't correct either this noun use or a verb use on a student paper, though.

  24. thecynicalromantic said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 1:18 pm

    I agree with cameron–I took Krugman's comments about "impact" and "incentivize" to be about the irritating phenomenon where older generations piss and moan about how those darn kids these days are doing X stupid thing, where X stupid thing is something we learned directly from the people complaining.

  25. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 2:25 pm

    But does this not imply that Krugman regards principle/principal as a similar peeve? I would find that rather unlikely.

  26. hector said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 2:42 pm

    Given that Krugman is an economics professor, I suspect that his real complaint about "incentivize" is students using it as a substitute for thought. Buzzwords are not generally well-received in academic work.

  27. Narmitaj said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 3:30 pm

    What I learned from QI is, never mind starfish, there is in fact no such thing as a fish.

    From the Telegraph: "No such thing as a fish? This really means that unlike mammals and birds, not all the creatures we call fish today descend from the same common ancestor. Or put another way, if we go back to most recent common ancestor of everything we now call fish (including the incredibly primitive lungfish and hagfish), we find that they also were the ancestor of all four-legged land vertebrates, which obviously aren’t fish at all. So, it’s a term to use with caution. After all, in the 16th century, seals, whales, crocodiles and hippos were called fish and cuttlefish, starfish, crayfish, jellyfish and shellfish still are."

  28. GeorgeW said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 3:43 pm

    hector: Buzzwords are not generally well-received in academic work."

    The question is, is 'incentivize' a buzzword? The data presented in this thread suggests not. MYL found 73,900 hits in academic journals.

  29. ben said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 4:10 pm

    "The question is, is 'incentivize' a buzzword?"

    I think what's happening is it's heard in a business domain, and then people who don't like people in the business domain (such as academics or engineers) then mark it as a buzzword. It's kind of a negative jargon; we are not part of that group, therefore we don't use their jargon.

    I see it often when I'm reviewing resumes with coworkers. If someone has certain words or phrases, people make fun of it. And there's some justification, often you have people who have been in management for a while who apply for an development position, and they usually haven't written any code in a long time.

  30. Michael Rank said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 4:40 pm

    Strange that # is sometimes called a pound sign in US when every limey knows a pound sign is £, but why is it better known as a hash sign? My theory is that it was originally called a hatch sign, as in the artist's term hatching or crisscrossing of lines (in a drawing or etching) ### but that's a pure guess…

  31. maidhc said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 7:05 pm

    I usually think of it as a sharp sign, although its companions natural and flat are not used. But I remember when it was more commonly called a number sign. I only remember seeing it used to represents pounds as weight in reproductions of 19th century account books. Michael Rank's suggestion is a plausible one, as the sign has not been commonly associated with any other uses of "hash".

  32. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 7:36 pm

    Indeed, the OED says that "hash sign" for the # is "probably ultimately < hatch v.2, altered by popular etymology", that verb being "To cut, engrave, or draw a series of lines, generally parallel…"

  33. CLThornett said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 8:24 pm

    # is a crosshatch to me, too, as a relic of 8th grade geography, or a sharp if the context is music.

  34. Joe Fineman said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 8:47 pm

    The noun "impact" in its literal and its vivid metaphorical sense already had a corresponding fancy Latinate verb "impinge" as well as the plain verb "hit". So why, recently, has there been a vogue for yet another verb? I think it is because the noun has a new sense & for that needs its own verb. It has burst the bounds of its metaphor and become a mere synonym of "effect" or "influence" even where no suggestion of suddenness is meant. It just sounds more punchy. Also, using it saves people the trouble of distinguishing "affect" from "effect" and the two of them from "influence". Thus it has sloth as well as bluster on its side.

  35. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 11:22 pm

    MYL: Thanks for linking to that post and comments on the history of "pound sign". When I needed it recently, I could only find the "double cross" used for pounds back to 1913, not 1903.

  36. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 11:33 pm

    Aha. Slight antedating, and an unhelpful comment on the origin.

    "The double cross sign for pounds seems to be arbitrary, and when placed before the figures instead of following them often signifies number."

    The American Machinist, vol. 24, p. 1287

  37. Robert Coren said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 11:49 pm

    If you search for "octothorp" in Wikipedia, it takes you to a subsection of the entry for "number sign" which gives several different spellings, including the one I used earlier (with final "e"). It also notes that, properly speaking, it's not the same as the sharp sign, and links to the entry for the latter, in which we learn that the sharp is rotated slightly counterclockwise relative to the "number" sign, and that its approximately-horizontal strokes are bolder,

  38. Larry Sheldon said,

    May 25, 2014 @ 2:07 am

    Actually "#" is called a "sharp". And not just by musicians.

  39. Rubrick said,

    May 25, 2014 @ 3:12 am

    I believe the symbol in question is a tic-tac-toe-tag.

  40. Adam Funk said,

    May 25, 2014 @ 5:43 am

    "Similarly, call them jellies, not jellyfish."

    But they're not related to the sweet foodstuffs either!

  41. Martin J Ball said,

    May 25, 2014 @ 6:47 am

    I propose impactize for the verb ….. ;)

  42. David Morris said,

    May 25, 2014 @ 7:25 am

    A musical acquaintance of mine has written several books. In one of them I spotted 'elicit' instead of 'illicit' *and* 'principals' instead of 'principles'. When I emailed him about this, he said he knew about the first one, but where was the second. I hadn't noted exactly where it was, and couldn't find it – I thought it occurred in a passage about a particular composer and looked at every reference to that composer. About six months later, the acquaintance emailed to say he'd found it, in a passage about another composer.
    The thing is, that both of those had got through numerous drafts, and a fully publishing process (including proof-reading) by a highly reputable publishing company.

  43. Picky said,

    May 25, 2014 @ 8:03 am

    For the history of the hash, read here:


    Or better still, buy the book.

  44. Robert Coren said,

    May 25, 2014 @ 10:02 am

    @Larry Sheldon: Yes, # is called a sharp. The Wikipedia entries (to which you may add salt to taste) indicate that this is technically incorrect.

  45. Larry Sheldon said,

    May 25, 2014 @ 10:15 am

    It might be a VT100 issue, but I remember California Shell ("csh") purists insisting tnat it was a "sharp".

  46. Rodger C said,

    May 25, 2014 @ 11:42 am

    And then there's the university press editor who changed my "millennium" to "millenium." I see this spelling quite often, and it puzzles me; I've never seen "centenial." (The editorial incident was pre-spellcheck.)

  47. Stan Carey said,

    May 25, 2014 @ 3:07 pm

    'So do you think that impact-the-verb will still stir passions after a century of stable usage?'

    @Mark: Maybe the unquenchable passions of a few die-hards, but probably not much beyond that. It's so routine that another generation of popular use may normalise it for most people to the point of invisibility. It isn't yet approaching affect or influence in frequency – despite its ubiquity in some academic domains – but a lot can happen in two decades.
    To impact X seems significantly more reviled than to impact on X, for whatever reason – maybe its sheer impactfulcy.

  48. nemryn said,

    May 25, 2014 @ 4:09 pm

    Yeah, I'm pretty sure that Krugman's bit is facetious, if not outright sarcastic. Notice how his #1 and #2 contradict each other.

  49. John said,

    May 25, 2014 @ 4:47 pm

    To provide a counterpoint to the people peeving about impact as a verb and incentivize: I like having these words available to me. Though I might be an exception, it seems to me there are times when either one might be the most judicious word for the occasion.

  50. Norman Smith said,

    May 25, 2014 @ 9:30 pm

    I stand with my fellow octothorpians regarding the name for the # symbol. Unfortunately, no one I speak to is octothorpistically inclined, so it leads to confusion.

  51. Will said,

    May 25, 2014 @ 11:01 pm

    I'm surprised nobody has mentioned referring to # as the "Number Sign", which IME is the most common usage in (American) English, or at least it was before Twitter came along. That's its official name in Unicode, for example.

    And to echo comments above, the sharp symbol in music is typographically distinct from the # symbol. I suspect they have differing origins, but wikipedia doesn't discuss the origins of musical sharp and I'm not inclined to do more digging at this point.

  52. Josh said,

    May 26, 2014 @ 5:47 am

    A suggested import from the Chinese: greenize (or shall we go with verdurize?),

  53. Ellen K. said,

    May 26, 2014 @ 8:37 am

    Will, if you look in the right place, Wiktionary does cover the origins of the musical sharp sign. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accidental_%28music%29#History_of_notation_of_accidentals

  54. Robert Coren said,

    May 26, 2014 @ 9:45 am

    @Will: I too am too lazy to do any digging on the subject, but my recollection from my music-history courses of many decades ago is that the natural and flat signs, at least, are derived from forms of the lower-case letter b, a derivation having to do with what were, in the medieval period, called the "hard" and "soft" hexachords. (Hence also the curious fact that the German words for the musical terms "major" and "minor" are essentially the French words for "hard" and "soft", and also that the German names for the notes that everyone else calls "B" and "B flat" are "H" and "B" respectively.) I'm not sure how the sharp fits in there.

  55. Rod Johnson said,

    May 27, 2014 @ 10:43 am

    I can't tell if Robert Coren is serious about "octothorp(e)," but I know people who do make that claim, and they remind me of people who insist that the plural of "octopus" is "octopodes." To a person, they are people who read that somewhere and think that the knowledge confers on them some kind of special status as connoisseurs of language.

    There are multiple stories about where "octothorpe" came from, and even multiple spellings, none of which can be corroborated and none of which has any official status. It's clear that it's a recent neologism (usually dated to the mid-sixties) and most of the accounts have it as a jocular thing that was never intended to be taken seriously. Basically, it's hacker jargon, from a variety of hacker that slightly predates what we now think of as hackers. (Mark, in his time at Bell Labs, probably knew lots of those people.) Anyone who seriously insists on "octothorpe" is repeating the punchline of a joke without realizing it's a joke.

  56. Robert Coren said,

    May 27, 2014 @ 11:34 am

    @Rod Johnson: I had hoped that it was clear that my original "octothorpe" reference was facetious (and partially inspired by a friend who uses it as his Live Journal handle), although I rather like the word. In any case, I would be foolish indeed to try to claim "special status as a connoisseur of language" in this precinct. And I would never insist on "octopodes", even in the context of objecting to "octopi". (I'm amused to note that the local spellchecker accepts that latter but not the former.)

  57. Ray Dillinger said,

    May 27, 2014 @ 11:23 pm

    Sigh. If someone said to me "Pound Sign" I would immediately think of '£'. Which is used rather less these days than the sign for the Euro.

    The mark this fellow objects to calling a hash tag, I do in fact routinely refer to as an octothorpe among general speakers. There's no facetiousness about it to me; it's an entirely normal use. It is only among other programmers that I would call it 'hash' – but I would never call it 'hash tag.' I have also heard 'doubleplus' occasionally, but rarely unless the speaker is making some kind of joke about newspeak or language reform.

    Among people who write computer code and therefore have occasional reasons to be both succinct and specific about characters, a set of names has evolved that we use mostly just among ourselves.

    In column one, what you call it when speaking to other programmers; in column two, what you call it in documentation and when explaining it in formal terms or to normal human beings.

    bang exclamation point
    splat asterisk
    dot period
    tick backquote
    quote single quote
    hash octothorpe
    squig tilde
    hat caret
    amp ampersand
    langle less than sign
    rangle greater than sign
    quark question mark
    bra left square bracket
    ket right square bracket
    paren left parenthesis
    thesis right parenthesis
    cur left curly brace
    lee right curly brace
    stroke forward slash

    There are many others too, even for 'characters' that have no visual representation. These include such gems as nul, newline, return, tab, backtab, vtab, ffeed, ack, nack, and so on.

  58. Adam Funk said,

    May 28, 2014 @ 4:46 am

    And of course, the plural of "octothorpes" is tetrasyllabic.

  59. Rohan F said,

    May 30, 2014 @ 12:51 am


    What I learned from QI is, never mind starfish, there is in fact no such thing as a fish.

    Well, as with many things on QI, that's more the result of mixing a strict (and post-hoc) scientific definition with a common-language one, which is always going to be doomed to generate misunderstanding. It's like saying a tomato, eggplant and zucchini moussaka counts as a mixed berry dish. In my experience it always messes with people's minds to learn for the first time that botanically, mulberries, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries are not berries, where tomatoes, watermelons, grapefruit and bananas are.

  60. Adam Funk said,

    May 30, 2014 @ 3:07 am

    The "no such thing as a fish" argument is cladistically true, but in practical terms, as Harold McGee's book explains, fish's muscle fibers have significantly different properties from their land-bound descendants, so they need to be cooked differently.

  61. Mark W. said,

    June 1, 2014 @ 10:33 am

    On the "hashtag" front, this thread at the Daily WTF forums reports a new development:


    This thread reports someone using "hashtag" as a verb meaning "comment out (the object) in a programming language where hash signs are used to mark comments".

    The response in that thread has included quite a bit of word rage, with the original poster remarking, "Unfortunately, [stabbing people in the face over the Internet] is still not a thing."

    – – – –

    On the "fish" front, I wonder if the aquarium applies that logic to "crayfish". "Crayfish" is an interesting one, where the version with "fish" is overwhelmingly the dominant one in scientific writing, but a version without "fish", "crawdad", is in wide use among laypeople.

    Zoological names where the head morpheme isn't the actual containing group are, of course, legion and are widely accepted. There's even a convention among entomologists and some other zoologists of distinguishing these from other zoological names by using them as one word (for instance, "dragonfly" and "firefly" because those aren't flies, but "house fly" and "crane fly" because those are flies).

    As a birder, I've been noticing what's done with this kind of bird name. For instance, it was recently discovered that Piranga, a genus that had been classified in the tanager family, actually belongs to the cardinal family. (This genus includes all North American species of "tanagers": the Western Tanager, the Scarlet Tanager, etc.) With this reclassification, usage has retained the "tanager" names, despite a few suggestions of calling them "Western Piranga", "Scarlet Piranga", etc. On the other hand, Hume's Ground Jay became the Ground Tit when it was recently discovered to actually belong to the tit family.

    With respect to longstanding (as opposed to recently discovered) name/phylogeny mismatches, often a no-spaces convention like the one in entomology is used (a meadowlark isn't a lark, and a silky-flycatcher isn't a flycatcher), but this isn't consistently applied (a goldfinch IS a finch, a nightingale-thrush IS a thrush, and the Olive Warbler ISN'T a warbler). With hyphens, some ornithologists use capitalization of the second word to indicate actual membership (Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush has "thrush" capitalized, but Gray Silky-flycatcher doesn't have "flycatcher" capitalized).

  62. Steven C Perkins said,

    June 1, 2014 @ 11:37 am

    The principal principle is that the first principle is principal.

  63. Keith said,

    June 1, 2014 @ 4:01 pm

    When I was in my teenage years, well before the intarwebs, but coding with Apple ][ and DEC computers, we referred to that sign as a hash. It definitely was not called a "pound" which we represented with the digraph "lb".

  64. Keith said,

    June 1, 2014 @ 4:11 pm


    I hope that you have already understood that the Telegraph is not exactly a respected scientific journal.

    Links from the page to which you posted a link:

    "Frozen's Let it Go in 21 cartoon voices"
    "How to fake a male orgasm "
    "Is porn literally shrinking men's brains?"
    "How porn is rewiring male brains"
    "UK's 'vainest man': no model for manliness"

  65. BZ said,

    July 15, 2014 @ 8:58 am

    @Ray Dillinger,
    I am a programmer in the US and don't use any of those nicknames. In fact, they are either not pronounced at all or as the function they represent. In particular:

    bang – I'm familiar with this name, but don't associate it with programming. I call it "not" when it functions that way

    splat – I've heard that it is used, but never heard it actually used

    dot – yes, in some cases (dot com is the most famous, but when we started out, the dot was silent in web addresses). Point in others. Not pronounced in IP addresses

    tick – I haven't run into this symbol in any programming notation

    quote – maybe sometimes, but it can get confusing fast

    hash – Not pronounced in things like #include. #if would be rendered as "preprocessor if". # for comment would be pronounced "comment"

    squig – I call it "not" when it functions that way. Tilde otherwise

    hat – I call it "not" when it functions that way. Caret otherwise

    amp – "and" (&& is pronounced "and and", though can be just "and" if it's not ambiguous)

    the angle brackets are called that unless they function as less than and greater than, in which case they're called that. "bra – ket" are just brackets or sometimes square brackets to distinguish from the angle ones. Parentheses are shortened to "paren", but both of them are called that. "curlies" are known as braces.

    quark – question

    stroke – slash

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