Re: Technical name for the #?

Subject: Re: Technical name for the #?
From: Geoff Lane <geoff -at- GJCTECH -dot- FORCE9 -dot- NET>
Date: Sun, 29 Nov 1998 09:05:00 -0000

Mark Baker wrote:


The glyph "#" can express several different symbols. It can be "number" as
in "#12". In the absence of the normal glyph for pound it can be "pound"as
in "#12 sterling". In the OmniMark language, like many other programming
languages, "#" is used in a number of special ways and is called "hash".

I have no idea if "octothorp" is or is not the correct name for the glyph,
but, except in an abstruse discussion of typography, you should not be
naming the glyph at all, but the symbol. It is therefore quite correct to
call "#" "hash" where it is a hash symbol, "pound" where it is a pound
symbol, "number sign" where it is a number sign symbol, and so on.

------ [ REPLY SEPARATOR ] -----

Unfortunately, this is another example of why U.K. and U.S.A. are two
countries divided by a common language. The Concise Oxford Dictionary does
not list "octothorpe", leading me to suspect that the term is local to

In UK, '#' is never used as the UK currency symbol and never called a
'pound'; "#12 sterling" will cause confusion and may offend.

Calling '#' the number symbol will also cause confusion in some
circumstances. For example, in UK, most telephone handsets have a '#' key.
Were you to write, "Press the number key", most users would wonder to which
of ten keys you referred. Worse, they wouldn't consider '#' a candidate.
We use 'No.' (or the typographical equivalent) for 'number'. For technical
use this is a suffix, pronounced "in number". For example, "Fit 10 No.

In UK, we call the '#' a hash (or sharp, for musical contexts).

So, write carefully if you have an international audience. You will offend
some readers if you call the '#' a pound, and confuse some if you call it a
number or an octothorpe. However you name the beast, define it at first
use. For example, "the hash mark ('#')".

Geoff Lane
Cornwall, UK
geoff -at- gjctech -dot- force9 -dot- net

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