Friday, November 9, 2007

#

If you're not subscribed to Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day, you're missing delights such as this word:

octothorpe   \AHK-tuh-thorp\   noun
: the symbol #

Example sentence: Barry noticed the pound sign on the telephone and remarked about how much the octothorpe resembled a tic-tac-toe grid.

Did you know? Stories abound about who first called the # sign an "octothorpe" (which can also be spelled “octothorp”). Most of those tales link the name to various telephone workers in the 1960s, and all claim the "octo-" part refers to the eight points on the symbol, but the "thorpe" remains a mystery. One story links it to a telephone company employee who happened to burp while talking about the symbol with co-workers. Another relates it to the athlete Jim Thorpe, and a third claims it derives from an Old English word for “village.” If the plethora of theories leaves your head spinning, you might want to take the advice of the wag who asked (poetically), "Can we simply just say, / Ere it spoils your day, / It's the thorp between seven and nine?"
When my local Walgreens switched to an automated telephone prescription-refill service, some older users (i.e., older than me, much older) were baffled by the instruction to "Press pound" when finished. Walgreens could've baffled users of all ages with the instruction to "Press the octothorpe."

comments: 2

lesle said...

I'd go with the BARB key: Button At Right Bottom, as well as looking like a barb on a wire fence.
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I must admit that the first time I heard a recorded message saying ... do this and do that and then "pound on the phone" I initially only understood it literally.
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Thanks for the Recommended Exchange Names! I'm changing to LAfayette 4-....
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Then there's the old joke about the fellow starting to write down the phone number CApital 2-1234, who paused, and finally asked, "Uh, how do you make a capital 2?"

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for your comments, Lesle, and for the joke, which may be old but is new to me.

I was about to complain about "Press 'star'" (it's an asterisk, says I) before realizing that asterisk derives from asteriskos, "little star."