#octothorpe

For the past several years, I’ve participated in a weekly trivia league. It’s a lot of fun, and my team does reasonably well, enough to earn a gift card now and then.

This year we did better than most. In fact, we made the league finals. 50+ of the top teams in Michigan convened in Woodhaven to compete, and we held our own. Then came the category “Words.”

Perfect, right? Not so fast. I both love it and hate it when we get a “Words” category. I love it because I know lots of words; I hate it because, if I’m wrong, I never hear the end of it. Being the finals, I expected something reasonably difficult. I got this: “In writing, the word ‘octothorpe’ is the technical term for what grammar mark?”

As is typical for this particular category, all heads at the table turned to me expectantly. *crickets*

“Well,” I speculated, “Maybe the @ symbol is also known as an ‘octothorpe.’” That seemed like a good guess; after all, it has to have a name beyond “at symbol.” And it does (see below)—but I regret to inform you that it’s not “octothorpe.”

Nope. An octothorpe is—drumroll, please—the pound sign or hash symbol. (#really?) After drawing it out and staring at the nine squares encompassing it, I realized that the “octo” actually comes from the eight lines that stick out around the character—which actually makes a lot of sense.

It made me wonder, though—are there other characters that have technical terms I’m unaware of? I did a quick Google search and found that:

  • @ is also referred to as an “ampersat,” an “arobase,” and an “asperand.”
  • ^, or “caret,” is also called a “circumflex.”
  • &, which we all know as the “ampersand,” is also called an “epershand.”
  • /, the forward slash, is also called a “virgule” or a “whack.”
  • \, the back slash, is also called a “reverse solidus.”

Interesting, right? So be honest—how many of you knew what an “octothorpe” was before reading this post? Perhaps you should join our trivia team…

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