What Is the Number Sign?
The number sign, also known as the pound sign or the octothorpe, is a symbol (#) that has a variety of uses in our daily communication. Despite its ubiquitous presence, most people are unaware of its origins and the different ways in which it is employed.
The number sign first appeared on the telephone keypad in the 1960s, where it was used to indicate the end of a sequence of numbers in the early touch-tone systems. It was incorporated into computer systems in the 1970s and soon became a standard feature on keyboards and other input devices.
One of the most common uses of the number sign is as a hashtag on social media platforms like Twitter or Instagram. A hashtag is a way of categorizing posts or messages by adding the symbol before a word or phrase. This allows users to search for and group content related to a specific topic or event, such as #BlackLivesMatter or #COVID19.
The number sign is also used in mathematics as a symbol for the word ‘number,’ particularly in reference to a set of numbers or measurements. For example, you might see a sign that says “# of days without an accident” in a workplace to track safety progress over time.
In music notation, the number sign indicates a sharp or raised note, meaning that the note is to be played one semitone higher than the note that would be played without the symbol.
In some countries, the number sign is used as a currency symbol for their respective currencies, such as the peso in Mexico or the colón in Costa Rica.
Despite its various uses, the number sign’s origins and name are a bit mysterious. There are a few theories about where the name “octothorpe” comes from, but none can be conclusively proven. Some believe that “octo” refers to the eight tips of the symbol, while “thorpe” might refer to a town or village name.