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hash # and #hashtag
Posted: 19 November 2012 02:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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In computer software development, I have always read ‘#’ as ‘hash’, but I had a faint recollection that some early books didn’t call it that. I have a fairly extensive (and very eclectic) shelf of computer books behind me in the office, so I decided to do some digging.

The earliest reference I could find is in ‘Software Tools’ by Brian W Kernighan and P J Plauger (Addison-Wesley, 1976). The book defines the Ratfor programming language (a Fortran derivative), which uses # as a comment delimiter. The book call it the ‘sharp sign’: “In Ratfor, a sharp sign # anywhere on a line signals the beginning of a comment...”

(Incidentally Ratfor uses the ¬ symbol to represent a boolean NOT operator. I vaguely recall that PL/1 does the same, but it’s not a language I’ve ever needed to use.)

The next most obvious language to look at was C, which uses # as the initial character in preprocessor directives (an important part of the language’s design). The book that introduced C was “The C Programming Language” by Brian W Kernighan and Dennis M Ritchie (Prentice-Hall, 1978). Ingeniously, the book doesn’t call # anything at all. When it has to be mentioned, it just appears as a literal character: “Lines beginning with # communicate with the preprocessor.” The first occurrence in the books is even less explicit: “With the #define construction, at the beginning of a program you can define a symbolic name or symbolic constant...” All C users that I know pronounce #define as ‘hash-define’, but the original authoritative book offers no such guidance!

The next most obvious source to look at was “C: A Reference Manual” by Samuel P Harbison and Guy L Steele Jr (Prentice-Hall, 1984), which is probably the second most seminal book on C. # is named in a section defining the character set needed for C programs, where it is names as ‘number sign’. Everywhere else, it appears literally in text in the same manner as in Kernighan and Ritchie, but is never named.

An interesting rummage through computer history, but not as informative as I hoped it might be!

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Posted: 19 November 2012 06:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Then there’s |, which shows up on the keyboard as a broken line but prints as a solid line.  That one I know is used in computer programming, so it would make sense for it to be on a keyboard.

Also used, paired, in algebra to indicate absolute value, i.e., |x| = 2 regardless of whether x = 2 or x = -2.

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Posted: 19 November 2012 07:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Dr. Techie - 15 November 2012 02:09 PM

Ah, so the British pound sign (£) replaces the US pound sign (#) as shift-3.

Yes, to get # on a British keyboard - or at least a Mac one, can’t remember about a PC one - you have to use alt-3.

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Posted: 19 November 2012 11:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Faldage - 16 November 2012 04:09 AM

Then there’s |, which shows up on the keyboard as a broken line but prints as a solid line.  That one I know is used in computer programming…

and,

jtab4994 - 16 November 2012 06:45 AM

The | (pipe) is used all the time especially in Unix commands....

The vertical line, “|” is a symbol I have always heard referred to as the “pipe symbol”. It may be seen in command-line interface computing environments (such as may be seen in DOS, or Windows at the “command prompt”, and in UNIX-like operating systems such as Linuxes at a “terminal” or in a “terminal emulator” window).

It serves to indicate a function much like a pipe in plumbing, taking the output of the program to the left of the symbol and piping it to the input of the program to the right of the symbol.

Example: 

linuxes:

ls | more

-- list files in the default directory [ls], output piped to the input of [|] a program [more], that displays only one screen-full of the (possibly more than one screen-full long) list of files at a time, and then waits for user input (such as a “space” or an “enter/carriage-return") before displaying another screen-full of the list of files.

Windows command prompt (or DOS command):

type c:/*.* | more

-- list all files [*.*] in the “C:/” directory [type c:/*.*], output piped to the input of [|] a program [more], that displays only one screen-full of the (possibly more than one screen-full long) list of files at a time, and then waits for user input (such as a “space” or an “enter/carriage-return") before displaying another screen-full of the list of files.

[ Edited: 19 November 2012 11:31 AM by sobiest ]
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Posted: 19 November 2012 12:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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“Ceci n’est pas une |.”

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Posted: 19 November 2012 03:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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Pareille trahison!

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Posted: 22 November 2012 08:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Hashtags - proceed with caution.

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Posted: 22 November 2012 09:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Dr. Techie - 19 November 2012 12:30 PM

“Ceci n’est pas une |.”

Brilliant!

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Posted: 22 November 2012 03:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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Hashtags - proceed with caution.

Sus scrofa? Pig’s arse.

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Posted: 30 May 2013 06:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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Something else I didn’t know: the original name for the hash is octothorpe, according to The Grauniad:

The term octothorpe was coined by engineers at Bell Laboratories in the early 1960s, who wanted a name for one of two non-number function symbols on the first touch-tone keypads (the other was the *, which they called a sextile). It didn’t catch on, and the # key became famous as an ineffectual way of interacting with the robots who work at your bank.

Until, that is, Twitter came along. The octothorpe is the essential symbol in the formation of a hashtag, a marker that allows 140-character tweets to be grouped together by subject (#boringtypographystories, for example). It means all the comments about #xfactor or #imaceleb can be viewed together.

There are a few other symbols on the keyboard awaiting a new life, among them §, which is used to denote “section”, the ¶ (or pilcrow, for “paragraph") and the dagger †, used for footnotes when the asterisk has already been deployed, but it won’t happen until a need arises.

An ongoing search for a universal symbol to denote irony (the reverse question mark being among the oldest suggestions) has always faltered, partly because it’s not really irony unless someone somewhere doesn’t get it.

OED on octothorpe:

(compare thorp n.: see note below).
The term was reportedly coined in the early 1960s by Don Macpherson, an employee of Bell Laboratories:

1996 Telecom Heritage No. 28. 53 His thought process was as follows: There are eight points on the symbol so octo should be part of the name. We need a few more letters or another syllable to make a noun… (Don Macpherson..was active in a group that was trying to get Jim Thorpe’s Olympic medals returned from Sweden). The phrase thorpe would be unique.

For an alternative explanation see quot. 1996; in a variant of this explanation, the word is explained as arising from the use of the symbol in cartography to represent a village.

For a different explanation from a former employee of Bell Laboratories, arguing that the word is a completely arbitrary formation (and that it originally had the form octatherp) see D. A. Kerr ‘The ASCII Character Octatherp’ in http://doug.kerr.home.att.net (2006).

Teleph. (orig. N. Amer.).

Categories »

The hash sign (#), as it appears on the buttons of touch-tone telephones and some other keypads.

1973 U.S. Patent 3,920,926, The pad provides keys for numerals 0 to 9, while..the octothorp (#) key generates a command to send the contents of the memory into the telephone line.

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Posted: 30 May 2013 06:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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More here:

Perhaps the most credible story behind the evolution of the symbol, and the only one to be corroborated by at least some tangible evidence, springs once again from ancient Rome.

The Roman term for a pound in weight was libra pondo, where libra means scales or balances (from which the constellation takes its name)[2] and where pondo comes from the verb pendere, to weigh.[3] The tautological flavour of this pairing is borne out by the fact that both libra and pondo were also used singly to mean the same thing — a pound in weight[4] — and it is from these twin roots that the ‘#’ takes both its form and its oldest name.

Some time in the late 14th century the abbreviation ‘lb’ for libra entered English,[*] and according to common scribal practice it was accessorised with a line drawn across the letters to highlight the use of a contraction.[6] Jotted down in haste, as can be seen in Isaac Newton’s elegant scrawl below, ‘℔’ was transformed into ‘#’ by the carelessly rushing pens of successive scribes.[7] Originally so common that some early typecutters provided a dedicated letter punch for it, but now considerably outshone by both predecessor and descendant, ‘℔’ has become a typographic missing link.[†]

Parallel to all this, libra’s estranged partner pondo was also changing. Where libra had become ‘lb’ and subsequently ‘#’ through the urgency of the scribe’s pen, pondo was instead subjected to the vagaries of the spoken tongue. The Latin pondo became first the Old English pund, (sharing a common Germanic root with the German Pfund) and subsequently the modern word ‘pound’.[9] Libra and pondo were reunited, and ‘#’, the ‘pound sign’, was born.

Even more here, ending with

Even if it does not quite match the scope of their achievements in physics and technology, Bell Labs’ creation is still with us; sadly for the octothorpe, though, no Nobel Prize in Literature has yet been forthcoming.

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Posted: 30 May 2013 06:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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the original name for the hash is octothorpe,

I’m not sure on what basis you call that the “original” name.  The symbol was used for “pound” (in the US) and “number”, and referred to as the “pound sign” or “number sign”, long before the 1960s.

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Posted: 30 May 2013 07:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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Typesetters must have had a name for it before telephones and typewriters.

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Posted: 30 May 2013 09:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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I’m not sure on what basis you call that the “original” name.  The symbol was used for “pound” (in the US) and “number”, and referred to as the “pound sign” or “number sign”, long before the 1960s.

I hope my post about the origin of the symbol (which I guess you didn’t see when you posted yours soon after) helps explain.

And yes, droogie, I guess that’s the way to go.

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Posted: 31 May 2013 12:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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(compare thorp n.: see note below).
The term was reportedly coined in the early 1960s by Don Macpherson, an employee of Bell Laboratories:

1996 Telecom Heritage No. 28. 53 His thought process was as follows: There are eight points on the symbol so octo should be part of the name. We need a few more letters or another syllable to make a noun… (Don Macpherson..was active in a group that was trying to get Jim Thorpe’s Olympic medals returned from Sweden). The phrase thorpe would be unique.

It’s interesting to me at least what people focus on. I see the lines as creating 9 squares. Mr. Macpherson apparently saw the lines as lines qua lines, perhaps similar to an octopus. But the following makes more sense if one knows that “thorpe” is etymologically related to Dutch “dorp” and German “Dorf” which both mean town or village:

For an alternative explanation see quot. 1996; in a variant of this explanation, the word is explained as arising from the use of the symbol in cartography to represent a village.

The cartographic explanation, however, should still focus on the number of squares, representing land, rather than the number of end-points on the lines.

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