That symbol again

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Today's Zits:

For some background, see "The 'pound sign' mystery", 7/18/2010.


  1. bgg said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 6:21 pm


  2. Lazar said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 6:57 pm

    The cartoon leaves out "hash". My feeling is that "hashtag" refers to a hash in conjunction with a word or phrase, not to the symbol itself.

  3. J. W. Brewer said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 7:17 pm

    I have gotten so used to "pound sign" in the specific context of robot-voice phone-tree instructions that when I was trying to navigate through my utility company's phone tree yesterday in hopes of being ultimately able to talk to a live human being I was totally baffled by an instruction to press the "number sign." I ended up pressing the the asterisk/star button twice before I rallied and remembered that was of course a synonym for "pound sign" rather than an unexpected way of referring to the other non-numerical option on the keypad.

  4. Ralph Hickok said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 7:49 pm

    Hmmmm …. to me, it's a tic-tac-toe grid.

  5. JB said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 8:23 pm

    Word boundary sign, definitely.

  6. Scott said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 9:01 pm

    The New York Times Crossword (Thursday, May 29th) had a clever play on this recently where the four theme answers were clued as #1, #2, #3, #4 and the answers were "Tic Tac Toe Board", "Pound Sign", "Space Mark" and "Twitter Hashtag." You can see the crossword grid at this blog…

  7. CThornett said,

    June 20, 2014 @ 12:26 am

    Cross hatch. Well, that's what it was in 8th-grade geography.

  8. Ben Zimmer said,

    June 20, 2014 @ 12:40 am

    @Lazar: The last time this came up, I commented: "As for how the meaning of 'hashtag' got transferred from 'hash symbol + string of characters' to 'hash symbol itself', see my 2011 Word Routes column and the Spring 2013 installment of "Among the New Words" in American Speech."

    Since then, the OED has added "hashtag" in its latest update, and the entry notes the semantic shift.

  9. Chris Waigl said,

    June 20, 2014 @ 2:45 am


  10. Ralph Hickok said,

    June 20, 2014 @ 6:45 am

    It's also a proofreading symbol meaning that a space should be inserted.

  11. EndlessWaves said,

    June 20, 2014 @ 11:33 am

    Lazar: It does, but it's also used when reading the message out loud in place of the symbol, to denote the word of phrase following is part of the hashtag.

    e.g. #LanguageLog can be spoken 'Hashtag Language Log'

  12. Charles N said,

    June 20, 2014 @ 11:52 am

    Let's not forget "octothorp."

  13. Dan Lufkin said,

    June 20, 2014 @ 1:43 pm

    I knew an elderly printer (cold-type era) who called # a humpydink. No joy on Google, though.

  14. blahedo said,

    June 20, 2014 @ 3:27 pm

    In my intro-level computer science class, where we use C++, one of my students referred to the "hashtag include line", this past semester. I blinked for a second, then figured out what she meant, and thought—huh, this is the future.

    (For those who haven't programmed in C or C++: the first lines of a program file usually start with "#include", hitherto nearly universally referred to verbally as "pound include", but that would seem to be changing.)

  15. Brett said,

    June 20, 2014 @ 4:06 pm

    @blahedo: It seems to me that when I worked on programming in C, we just didn't pronounce the # at all. It was just read as "include"; everybody just knew that you needed to punctuate in properly. Other special characters, that couldn't so easily be omitted—such as * and &—we said by their function ("contents" and "address," I think).

  16. RobertL said,

    June 21, 2014 @ 5:12 am

    In Australia, phone messages always refer to this sign as a "hash". As in, "enter the password and press hash".

  17. Dan M. said,

    June 21, 2014 @ 5:12 am

    I'm also a C (actually mostly C++) programmer, and I say "pound include", and I believe most of my coworkers do, too. Plain "include" could be confused with manually copying the included source into the file being discussed. If you've had the misfortune of using various code generation tools, there's also "percent include" to add to the confusion. Also "pound include" is similar to "pound if" (#if), which is very importantly different than plain "if".

    I don't think I've ever heard "*" be said "contents". It's always "star" or, much more rarely "dereference". (Obviously, in other contexts, it can also be "glob".) I've heard of people saying "splat", but I've never actually seen it.

    I've been programming C for not quite twenty years, for what that's worth.

  18. Noam said,

    June 21, 2014 @ 11:53 am

    I'm used to hearing the first line of shell scripts as "number bang ….".

    Also, does anyone have any idea why it would be called "diez" (pronounce all the letters, not like it's French) in Hebrew (or was thirty years ago anyway)? As in P R diez 6.


  19. Dan M. said,

    June 21, 2014 @ 6:58 pm

    Oh, but the Jargon File endorses calling that the "hash bang line", or preferably the clipped version of that, the "shebang line", which of course tells exec how to handle the whole shebang.

  20. Douglas Bagnall said,

    June 23, 2014 @ 2:19 am

    If you call "#" pound sign, what do you call "£"?

  21. George said,

    June 23, 2014 @ 3:08 am


    Funnily enough, given your pronunciation reference, it comes from the French word for (musical) sharp, 'dièse'.

  22. Colin Fine said,

    June 23, 2014 @ 7:46 am

    Since # has never meant pound in the UK, and only in the last fifty years or so beautiful number, it has never been called pound sign or number sign.
    In my universe, #include is universally hash include. I have honestly never heard "pound include".

  23. Colin Fine said,

    June 23, 2014 @ 7:47 am

    Where the hell did beautiful come from? Wasn't meant to be there. That's Minuum for you

  24. Michael W said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 11:37 am

    If you call "#" pound sign, what do you call "£"?

    'Pound symbol'. Although I'm sure cases of ambiguities exist, but this is one case where 'sign' must be the most common with #. And I'd bet that 'pound sign' rarely refers to the pound sterling symbol, at least in the US.

  25. Svinyard118 said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 1:58 pm

    Amusingly (or perhaps not: YMMV), the captions for Game of Thrones, Season Three, at least on Amazon Instant Video's version, sometimes use "£" when they obviously mean "number." For example, in a scene with three men talking, the second man might be referred to as "Man £2". This confused me a bit, until I realized the idea is "£ = Pound, Pound = #, # = Number", thus, "£ = Number." (Who can argue with that logic?).

    I don't know if this oddity occurs in the other seaons, or just season three, nor whether the non-Amazon Instant Video versions have it. But, I only noticed it on that season and that version.

  26. Niall McAuley said,

    July 2, 2014 @ 6:24 am

    … and now, Mas#tags!

  27. bratschegirl said,

    July 7, 2014 @ 9:27 am

    Seen in Leah Garchik's column in the SF Chronicle, Monday 7 July: "…heard a teenager tell a group of friends, "I found my mom's old cell phone, like, from the '80s. How did they know back then that the hashtag would be used now?"

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